"From our offices you look out on to Haldon Hills, and you can see all the way down the Exe Estuary down to Exmouth and the sea," says Andrew Lovell, practice director at South West law firm Michelmores. He claims that the delights of living in Devon are a powerful lure for lawyers from City firms who want to swap metropolitan living for a quieter life. "You get the quality of work, the quality of life and the quality surroundings as well," he says.
Most recently Carol McCormack joined the firm from Berwin Leighton Paisner to head its projects and PFI department. Her services to the HM Treasury and the Home Office PFI projects were recognised in the 2004 New Year's Honours List with an OBE. Since joining, that department has increased from two lawyers to six.
"The firm has been growing rapidly and has more than doubled in the past five years," says Lovell. As a result, the 120-year-old firm has expanded beyond the confines of its former home, a row of Dickensian offices near Exeter Cathedral, and acquired a new 40,000sq ft purpose-built office. The firm presently has a total staff of 211 and it has planning permission to extend the new offices by a further 8,000sq ft to accommodate a total of 350. The firm anticipates that turnover will double in the next five years.
Commercial property makes up some 40 per cent of Michelmores' business. On the private side, it has clients such as Barratt Homes and Rok Property Solutions and on the public side it advises Cafcass, the Department of Constitutional Affairs, MoD Defence Estates and a further 10 government departments.
The firm built a strong public sector practice five years ago when lawyers from the Taunton office of Government Property Lawyers, which acted for government departments and Crown bodies, closed down and joined the firm. The rest of the firm's work is divided equally between company and commercial, litigation and private client.
A couple of years ago, the firm also joined forces with Foot Anstey Sargent to create Iimia Investment Group, which offers firms the opportunity to sell their investment management businesses in exchange for equity in the company.
Michelmores opened a new office in Mayfair, London earlier this year. "We have a number of London-based clients who've been successfully serviced out of Exeter, but we want to advise them better and we believe that there's more business there to be won," says Lovell. The London office is headed by former McGrigor Donald London managing partner Steven Scates and partner Charles Maunder, who joined from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer.
"We're clearly a regional player and we aren't looking for world domination - at least not at the moment," says Lovell. "The plan is to establish ourselves as a regional player in the South West with national practice areas."
Total number of partners
26 (15 equity)
Main practice areas
Commercial property, company and commercial, litigation and private client
Barratt Homes, Department of Constitutional Affairs, MoD Defence Estates, Rok Property Solutions, Cafcass, University of Exeter