Licensing firm Poppleston Allen is preparing for new legislation
Earlier this year licensing specialist Poppleston Allen recruited Addleshaw Booth & Co's Paddy Whur into its Nottingham office (The Lawyer, 18 March). Poppleston Allen co-founder Jeremy Allen Says: "There is a huge philosophical difference between working in a large firm and a smaller one. We have 35 staff, including five partners. It's much more free and easy; decisions can be taken fairly quickly; there are no vast committees. At the end of it all, it's your money. [Whur] is loving that; he is really fired up." Whur has brought a second share of Ladbrokes to the firm and Allen expects the relationship to develop in the near future. Due to the imminent gaming system reforms, the firm is enjoying a high level of international interest. "There's a lot of interest from foreign financiers in terms of coming to England," says Allen. "One of the ideas behind the gaming reform is that Britain would effectively give a sort of kitemark guarantee on gambling; it would be a safe place." With the last major liquor licensing reform in 1964, the Government has indicated that there may be a liquor and entertainment licensing bill in the Queen's Speech this year. Originally welcomed by the leisure industry, it is now becoming increasingly clear that tighter controls will accompany it. Allen says: "It will change the way we work: it will be much more working with councils rather than courts. There are lots of opportunities, particularly for administrative lawyers - I'm quite sure there will be a number of judicial reviews of whatever comes in." The key change is that liquor and entertainment licences will be put together in one act, with individual premises and licences considered on merit. If the bill becomes law in 2003 and there is the expected 12-month transition period, councils have only until 2004 to prepare for a ninefold increase in licensing volume. So is this another potential stumbling block for the system - and for Poppleston Allen? With turnover at just over £2m and average profits per equity partner at £235,000, it is unlikely that the firm will feel the need for a change in direction. Clients include The Ivy, Pizza Express, Rank Entertainment and Clearwater Estates, which recently acquired a new site at Greenwich Reach. Another is Taylor Woodrow, which has just received 68 new licences at Baltic Keyes, Gateshead. Poppleston's strategy remains to target the leisure industry, developing the planning side and the enforcement of health and safety as the emphasis on director responsibility increases. Succession issues always dog niche practices, but Allen hopes that he has sorted this out by bringing in three other partners, Whur being the latest. The flurry of merger talks in the legal sector have convinced him of the need to remain independent. "I'm happy not to have to worry about other departments and cross-sell," he said. "Both myself and Susanna [Poppleston] would give up tens of thousands in profit to have a good atmosphere at the firm."