Firm profile: Napthens solicitors

When the partners at Lancashire firm Napthens Solicitors decided to examine their strategy, they looked outside the legal profession for the person who would do the review. The chosen candidate was former HSBC area director Ian Higginbotham.

Napthens solicitors” />Chairman: Ian Higginbotham
Senior partner: Andrew Ferguson
Turnover: £4m
Total number of partners: 11
Total number of fee-earners: 30
Main practice areas: Commercial, commercial litigation, private client, property, rural business
Key clients: National farmers union, local businesses
Number of offices: Two
Location: Longridge, Preston

When the partners at Lancashire firm Napthens Solicitors decided to examine their strategy, they looked outside the legal profession for the person who would do the review. The chosen candidate was former HSBC area director Ian Higginbotham.

Higginbotham has been chair of Napthens since January and is in the process of leading a full-scale strategic review of the firm. He has plans to lead a threefold expansion over the next four years.

Higginbotham says Napthens’ expansion plan stems from a difficulty with its current size. With 11 partners and 30 fee-earners, the firm is neither a large player nor a boutique, but something in the middle.

“We want to be the practice of choice for people who are looking for a solicitor in our area,” Higginbotham explains.

The first step for Napthens was to introduce a new executive team. The executive is led by Higginbotham, who works part time, and senior partner Andrew Ferguson. David Sewell leads the corporate and commercial team and John Woosnam has responsibility for private client work.

Woosnam and Sewell both work with teams of partners, lawyers and support staff drawn from their sides of the firm to help drive development forward, the idea being that Napthens’ employees are encouraged to be proactive about the firm’s growth.

“We’re stopping thinking of this as merely a legal practice and we’re starting thinking of it as a business,” says Higginbotham.

In mid-March Napthens introduced a new rural business team to its offering. Partner Geoff Tomlinson is heading the new initiative, which is designed to formalise the firm’s existing relationship with clients such as the National Farmers’ Union, as well as local farmers and landowners.

The firm is actively recruiting new lawyers and there is possibly something larger in the pipeline. “We’re looking for a number of partners,” says Higginbotham. “There will certainly be at least one merger with another firm.”

But Napthens wants to retain its local connections. The firm was founded 275 years ago and has remained a purely Lancastrian outfit ever since. The expansion plan does not extend to it spreading outside Lancashire’s borders.

Higginbotham believes the concepts he has brought to Napthens have been warmly received and welcomed by the partners. “I’ve brought a perception that’s a business perception rather than a legal perception,” he says. “I haven’t not found negativity to the questions that I have raised.”