Firm profile: White and Bowker

Hampshire firm White and Bowker has been around longer than many of its competitors. Established in 1750, the firm has existed “in a number of guises ever since”, according to chairman Niall Brook.

“We’ve long been a recognised player in the Hampshire legal market,” says Brook. “I’d say we’re one of the leading medium-sized general practices in the county.”

Brook believes longevity and local pedigree are, in White and Bowker’s case, commensurate with innovation. “We’ve appointed one of the partners to look after business development,” he says. Nothing new there, but Brook explains that there is rather more to this decision.

“His remit is to develop our IT so that clients will be able to access a client portal and get an immediate update on the status of their files,” explains Brook. “Third parties will also be able to post messages so that there’s a constant two-way flow of information. The plan is to introduce this with our property work and then roll it out across the board. This will provide for a transparent means of operating, which fits with the way the legal world is moving on. We don’t believe there’s any reason to hide things from clients.”

Brook joined White and Bowker in 1987 and was appointed chairman in 1999.

His role is to determine the firm’s strategy, which means taking a good look at a rapidly changing legal marketplace and “building on our strengths”. Key is a commitment to “providing clients with what they want, and attracting the right staff to do so, so that we can continue to be a leading Hampshire practice”, says Brook.

The firm is run by a management board consisting of Brook, who deals with partnership issues and fee-earning, and a chief executive officer – an accountant – who looks after support staff matters such as IT, marketing, HR and accounts. “Running the firm by committee was too slow and time-consuming,” explains Brook. “Decisions took too long to be made.”

A significant amount of the firm’s practice is private client work, but unusually for a firm of its size crime is also a mainstay. Niche teams have been formed to handle agricultural, charity and equine work, and Brook is very proud of the employment department. “We’ve built this up considerably and handled some cutting-edge cases,” he says.
Chief among them was the case brought by Joanne Wingate against the Ministry of Defence (MoD). Wingate, a sergeant-major in the army, underwent gender reassignment but believed she had been treated unfairly, and sued the MoD for gender discrimination. “The case raised a number of sensitive issues, and I’m sure it won’t be the last we bring,” says Brook.

Looking ahead, Brook’s plan is for controlled expansion. “We want to be one of the leading firms in our chosen areas in Hampshire,” he says. “We recognise that we need to make opportunities for staff and want to keep doing the things that clients want us to do. That means expansion, but in a way that will retain the cohesiveness of the existing partnership.”

White and Bowker
Chairman Niall Brook
Turnover £6m
Total number of partners 15
Total number of lawyers 43
Main practice areas Agriculture, charity, crime, employment, private client and real estate
Key clients Church of England, the Home Office and various private trusts and landed estates
Number of offices Two
Locations Chandlers Ford and Winchester