Forsters

Having the strength to go it alone has paid off for Forsters

Mayfair-based property specialist Forsters will be celebrating its fifth anniversary in August. The 22-partner firm was launched in 1998 by former partners of the now defunct Frere Cholmeley Bischoff (FCB).

Following FCB's demise, most of the firm was taken over by Eversheds. But 11 of FCB's partners decided that they had a business that was capable of surviving independently.

Forsters' senior partner Sophie Hamilton says: “We launched Forsters because we valued our independence. FCB had an incredible professional history, which we thought was worth preserving. In particular we felt that we had fantastic property and private client practices so we thought it was worth giving it a go on our own,” says Hamilton.

Forsters' commercial property department generates 50 per cent of the firm's turnover. The department's nine partners advise institutional clients, developers, occupiers and public bodies. Through the old FCB connection, the firm has advised McDonald's since it first launched in the UK in 1973. Forsters also counts AOL Time Warner and Reed Elsevier as clients.

The past 12 months have seen Forsters win a number of public sector clients after successfully competing in beauty parades against regional and City firms.

Last December, the firm secured instructions to advise Suffolk County Council in connection with the disposal of 170 acres of land. And last summer, Forsters advised the Welsh Development Agency and the City & Council of Swansea on the development at Castle Quays in Swansea city centre. Earlier in the same year the firm was instructed by Westminster City Council on a lobbying project over a planning matter. Westminster was won as a new client after Forsters hired Ashurst Morris Crisp's head of planning Michael Cunliffe.

Additionally, Forsters is acting for Fulham River Projects, which last month agreed to pay £50m for Fulham football club's Craven Cottage stadium. The company is planning to redevelop the ground into luxury apartments, although planning permission has not yet been granted by the local authority.

Forsters' private clients encompass both “old money” and “new money”. Some of the old money clients, which include the Earl of Portsmouth, the Marquis of Salisbury, the Marquis of Zetland, the Philamore Trust and the Gunter Trust, were originally advised by FCB.

Hamilton is deliberately vague about new money clients. But they include entrepreneurs and a number of rock stars.

It is an area that the firm is investing heavily in, and its capability was bolstered after it hired a private client team from Masons in May 2000.

Forsters' turnover for the year ending 31 March 2002 was £12.5m, whichHamilton says is roughly the same for the 12 months ending 31 March 2001. Nevertheless, she is optimistic for the next period and expects turnover to rise by around 5 per cent.

Hamilton does not expect Forsters to grow significantly in the future and rules out the possibility of a merger with another firm. She says: “We're fiercely independent. There's a place for firms that aren't enormous but can provide fascinating work for its lawyers.”