Firm profile: Kester Cunningham John

Simon Smith joined what was then Few & Kester two years ago as its managing partner. “It was a well-established Cambridge firm with a lot of medium-sized institutional work,” he recalls. “But the partners were keen to make a quantum leap, and that was my brief.”

Managing partners: Simon Smith and Tom Cook
Turnover: £10m
Total number of partners: 26
Total number of lawyers: 80
Main practice areas: Clinical negligence, commercial, personal injury, private client and residential conveyancing
Key clients: Ashwell Property Group, Cambridge Building Society and over a dozen Cambridge colleges
Number of offices: Five
Location: Bury St Edmonds, Cambridge, Norwich, Thetford and Watton

Simon Smith joined what was then Few & Kester two years ago as its managing partner. “It was a well-established Cambridge firm with a lot of medium-sized institutional work,” he recalls. “But the partners were keen to make a quantum leap, and that was my brief.”

The same thought processes were taking place at another local practice, Cunningham John, which had recently taken on board three partners and several senior solicitors from Norwich firm Steeles. “They were looking to rebalance their firm and grow it out of its mid-Anglia origins,” Smith says. So the two firms decided to join forces and became Kester Cunningham John.

The other component to the newly merged firm’s strategy was to open up a new office in Norwich. “That was always part of the plan,” says Smith. “One of our ambitions has been to develop this Cambridge-Norwich axis by becoming a full-service East Anglia firm. Growing our presence in the city is one of the key things we’re currently pursuing.”

The 26-partner firm has a strong commercial property department featuring six partners and acts for a number of national house builders, including Ashwell Property Group. It also acts for a series of medium-sized clients such as the Cambridge Building Society and more than a dozen Cambridge colleges. In addition, Cunningham John was known for its clinical negligence and personal injury work.

“Over the last five years we must have recovered well over £100m for our clients in [the clinical negligence and personal injury] area,” Smith reckons. “We’re in the magic circle for claimant work.” He points out that the firm is on the specialist panels for this work alongside Alexander Harris and Irwin Mitchell. This represents 22 per cent of the firm’s fees.

It has been a busy 12 months for Kester Cunningham John. Just under a year after moving into Norwich, the firm has announced plans to expand into purpose-built premises 100 yards down the road from its original location. Now it is keen to promote itself as a full-service firm and is building up existing niche specialisms in construction, planning, education and oil and gas.

So why did the firm choose to make its quantum leap now? “We saw the market consolidating and felt that, if we were going to continue to offer a range of business and private client services, then we had to be bigger,” Smith says. “It was necessary to combine resources and go for this pretty aggressive strategy. Frankly, we’ve done an awful lot in the space of a couple of years and the market reaction has been very favourable.”

Simon Smith & Tom Cook, Managing Partners, Kester Cunningham

http://www.ashtonkcj.co.uk/