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Forster Dean is on an expansion drive. The personal injury (PI) and conveyancing firm has 23 offices, most of them in the North West and around the Potteries.
It opened four offices before Christmas, has plans for another 11 in 2011-12 and wants to launch a further 15 in each subsequent year. The firm says there is a business case for it to be in half of the 4,500 towns in England and Wales.
While such a strategy will inevitably generate considerable overheads in an area of work where margins are relatively low, finance director Ian Leigh believes the figures stack up. Personnel overheads are low, he says, with each office housing two fee-earners and one secretary. He adds that rental costs are on average around £25,000 a year per office, and that each office is expected to become profitable within 18 months. This year the firm posted a margin of £2.2m on a turnover of £7.3m.
Around 80 per cent of the firm’s revenue is generated through PI work. And Forster Dean has maintained a conveyancing practice in the belief that “people will always want to buy and sell houses,” according to chief executive Gregory Shields. But it may expand into other areas as part of its aim to be the “largest and the best high street law firm in the country”.
With this in mind, Shields argues that he is looking forward to the Legal Services Act.
“Our business is based on service, we get our clients through recommendations and we process claims in the office,” he says. “People like the idea that they can call in and see a person. The usual model in PI and conveyancing is, ’stack ’em high and sell ’em cheap’ - stick 100 unqualified people in an out-of-town office’. Our only out-of-town site is our head office.”
And Shields believes that with the demise of legal aid, Forster Dean can add value to the public.
“At our best, we’re like a really good Citizens Advice Bureau,” he says.