Firm profile: Claude Hornby & Cox

Richard Hallam, Claude Hornby & Cox’s senior partner, pauses only once when talking about his firm, which for nearly 100 years has been among London’s most highly-regarded crime practices. The pause occurs when asked who the firm’s key clients are. “We haven’t really got any,” says Hallam, after some thought. “Our white collar clients will either be acquitted, in which case we hope, in the nicest possible way, never to see them again, or convicted. There are a number of repeat offenders known to us, but I don’t think they can really be described as ‘key’.”

Claude Hornby has been in its current offices, just off London’s Carnaby Street in Great Marlborough Street, since the 1950s. Hallam joined 20 years ago and enjoys the job as much now as he did then. “I love getting a new case,” he says. “It’s like reading a detective novel, piecing everything together and sizing up what the prosecution have got.”

Hallam belies the stereotype of the jaded criminal law practitioner, and expects his staff to follow suit. “Our philosophy is not to over-regulate people and to trust them to get on with the work,” he says. “There’s never a dull moment here. It doesn’t matter how many times you act in a shoplifting or burglary case, each client is different and each requires a fresh attempt to understand who the person charged really is.”

The downside for any lawyer opting for life in a criminal practice is the pay. It is a fraction of that in a City or large regional firm. But at Claude Hornby, there are, according to Hallam, considerable upsides. “The biggest upside is the way that criminal law gives an opportunity to look into the lives of people you’d never normally meet,” says Hallam. “Recently, I was involved in a case of alleged murder, where my client was a 16-year-old illiterate Yardie. As with all the cases we handle, I had to try to understand him and his culture. This just doesn’t happen in many other walks of legal life.”

Claude Hornby handles all manner of criminal cases, as well as courts martial and disciplinary work on behalf of professionals (often fellow solicitors or accountants), with the firm’s lawyers regularly doing their own advocacy. Hallam proudly attests that the firm has never had a client convicted of murder, and indeed, that it has never turned a client away. He has a sanguine view of the criminal fraternity. “Some criminals are quite likeable, others aren’t,” he says. “They’re just like any other cross-section of society.”

Hallam is less than enamoured with the manner in which successive governments have attacked the criminal justice system. He objects to the “constant criticism” suffered by criminal lawyers and says that “criminal legal aid work has been repressed in terms of pay for decades, with the trend since the Thatcher Government being to downvalue the professionalism of the people involved.”

But for all this, Claude Hornby is still going strong. As Hallam says: “There’s a pleasure in putting a case as well as can be, in doing the job well, in understanding the reasons why someone may have committed an offence, and in ensuring that they are properly represented before the law.”

Claude Hornby & Cox
Senior partner Richard Hallam
Turnover £700,000+
Total number of partners Two
Total number of solicitors Eight
Main practice areas Courts martial, crime and disciplinary tribunal work
Number of offices One
Location London