7 May 2002
Niche firm Greenwoods has a rather obscure location, given its focus on the insurance industry. While most of its competitors are crammed into the EC3 district - corralling Lloyd's of London and other core clients - Greenwoods nestles in Bloomsbury. But such a leafy location belies the firm's intentions. No Virginia Woolf-style stream of consciousness - Greenwoods knows exactly what it wants and how to get it.
The seven-partner firm has expansion at the top of its agenda. Chief executive Christopher Crowcroft wants the firm to grow by 50 per cent over the next few years. Last month he made a start by picking off seasoned practitioners from Barlow Lyde & Gilbert and Taylor Joynson Garrett (TJG).
Barlows head of common law Malcolm Henke took senior associate Stephen Howcroft with him to Greenwoods last month. TJG partner Graham Briggs and associate Tim Wain came over at the same time. Henke says: "I joined because I wanted to get back to a smaller firm concentrating on personal injury (PI)."
Greenwoods does just that. Its clients include CGNU, Lloyd's syndicates, Direct Line, Provident and Privilege. Henke says he expects to gain an additional two or three major clients as a result of panel pitches in the next 12 months. The firm has established itself as a player at the lower end of the PI spectrum - small claims and fast or multitrack work - and is keen to take the next step into handling more complex, large loss claims. Briggs is a catastrophic claims specialist and his arrival marked the firm's push for this sort of high-profile work.
Henke argues that the firm can fulfil its ambitions because it has no pretensions to be anything other than a top-quality PI practice. Greenwoods has stolen a march on its provincial rivals, using technology to gain competitive advantage. While other firms farm out lower value work to bases in Bradford or Coventry, Greenwoods has developed SolCase, one of the first case management systems that allows clients to follow a claim's progress online.
Greenwoods can handle fast-track claims in London at rates that appeal to clients. Not only this, but technology has made the claims-handling process faster. Indeed, Henke says his clients are surprised by the turnaround times. "You expect a smaller firm not to be so advanced," he says. "We may not have a 200ft atrium in our office, but the technology is immense."
Henke believes it is this sort of investment that insurers reward with increased instructions. He also argues that providing an efficient service for lower value work will give insurers the confidence to use Greenwoods for more complicated matters. For Henke, the firm is reminiscent of an early Davies Arnold Cooper. A PI practice is often the first victim of a firm's growth. Rates are notoriously low and, as firms expand into more lucrative commercial work, it can fall by the wayside as more glamorous practice areas come to the fore.
At Greenwoods this is unlikely. Henke thinks that insurance clients are increasingly seeing the benefit of smaller, niche PI firms that are dedicated to their work. Greenwoods hopes to benefit from this shift in attitude.