The downturn put lateral hires on hold and prompted office closures, but internal promotions remained steady as women took the lead
Total partner numbers at Bath-headquartered Thrings, recently rebranded from Thring Townsend Lee & Pembertons, have fluctuated in recent years, but overall there has been a slight decline since 2008.
At the end of the 2007-08 financial year, Thrings had 56 partners, including 23 equity partners. This compares with 54 partners, including 18 equity partners, at the end of 2010-11.
The reduction in partner numbers is due both to exits and to the firm’s decision to de-equitise partners in 2010. Among those who left the firm were corporate partner Jonathan Poole in Bristol and private client partners Duncan Morris and Richard Bebb in Swindon. In the last round of de-equitisations, four partners became fixed-share, one became a consultant and another left the firm.
The South-West firm, however, saw strong growth between 2006 and 2008, adding 15 partners through internal promotions and lateral hires – some via mergers. In 2008 Thrings broke into The Lawyer’s UK 100 listing for the first time, with ambitious plans to double turnover in five years through strategic acquisitions.
But things have not quite turned out that way so far. Like many of its rivals, the firm’s growth plans were put on hold when the global financial crisis erupted in late 2008.
When the worst of the downturn hit at the beginning of 2009, Thrings initiated redundancy talks with 40 staff and cut around 20 jobs. It also closed its Cirencester and Wiltshire outposts and moved 25 people into its Swindon office. These cost-cutting measures are understood to have saved around £1m.
In 2008-09 the firm understandably did not make any lateral hires, but it did promote five lawyers to the partnership. Four of the five were female, including Ramona Derbyshire in commercial litigation, Becky Ricards in private client and Kate Westbrook in commercial.
Thrings gained its foothold in London by striking a merger agreement with Westminster-based Lee & Pembertons in July 2007, and has since seen the office grow to a 23-lawyer outpost overseen by 12 partners.
The growth of Thrings’ London base derived largely from the acquisition of boutiques. Following the merger with Lee & Pembertons the firm acquired corporate and commercial boutique Sabretooth Law in 2008, followed by private client boutique Leach & Co – spun out from Richards Butler – in 2010.
A number of lateral hires have enriched its offerings in the property and private client areas in London. In 2008 partner Richard Fidler joined the commercial property team from Maxwell Winward and, a year earlier, partner Jayne Kemsley joined the private property team from Southalls. In 2010, the firm hired partner Jim Sawer from Royds to head the London private client team.
Outside London, the firm’s partner appointments are equally active in Bristol and Swindon, partially driven by occasional partner departures. In the past six years the firm added nine partners at each of the two offices.
It is interesting to note that the firm has attracted a number of senior associates from larger competitors, with the offer of partnership no doubt a significant incentive. For example, employment lawyer Jeremy Nixon joined as a partner after spending almost eight years at Bird & Bird, commercial litigation lawyer Alastair Govier joined as a partner after 13 years with Nabarro and former Burges Salmon associate Steven McCombe was appointed to partner and head of Thrings’ construction and engineering team.
Managing partner Thomas Sheppard has stressed in the past that his firm’s strategy is to offer balanced private client and commercial practices, and its recruitment efforts reflect this.
Given that the firm has a long-established and well-known private client practice, it has recently put slightly more effort into building its corporate, commercial and property capabilities. In the past six years 15 partners have been appointed externally and internally in these areas, compared with five in the private client and family fields. The firm has also extended its offerings to the agriculture and construction sectors by adding two partners to each industry-focused team.
Thrings also recently hired an HR team headed by HR manager Caroline Miller and revised its HR strategy, gearing up to regain its growth momentum.
Promotions and senior hires
Andrew Braithwaite, commercial and IP partner Bristol-based Braithwaite joined from Osborne Clarke in June 2010
Alison Jarvis, commercial property partner Jarvis joined in April 2010 after the erger with Leach & Co, where she was property head
Derek Walsh, agriculture and litigation partnerElected partner in 2010, Walsh is one of only two promotions in London so far