SUMMER is a quieter time for most law firms as markets slow down over the holiday period. Not so for Harvey Ingram Owston.
The Leicester-based firm has just announced it is to open an office in Birmingham in July, its first move outside Leicester. The launch is on the back of the firm’s recruitment this month of the 16-strong motor claims practice from Wragge & Co, led by associate Paul Davies. Davies will become a partner at his new firm and the team will be expanded to 18, with
two more junior appointments. The practice handles small motor damage claims for insurance companies and corporate fleets.
“It was just an opportunity that arose. We’d been looking at Birmingham anyway as we’ve got a number of Birmingham clients and contacts. This gives us the opportunity to develop those relationships and be more accessible. We do have plans for a greater regional presence, and this fits in with those,” says managing partner Chris Finlay.
To those outside the region, it might be a case of “Harvey who?”, but the firm is actually the largest professional services firm in Leicester, with 26 partners and over 200 employees in total. It emerged from the merger of Harvey Ingram and Owstons in 1996. Since then turnover has grown to £9.1m, an increase of 25 per cent in the last three years. Staff numbers have risen by 10 per cent over the same period.
A general commercial law firm, the largest practice areas are commercial litigation (including employment and intellectual property) and commercial property, with seven and six partners respectively. Although these are the largest, recent growth has been focused on other practice areas as the firm expands its range of corporate services.
“We’re still very much in the general commercial and transactional market – it’s probably where our reputation is strongest – but we’re also keen to develop other practice areas to serve new and developing markets,” says Finlay.
After a big loss in 2001, when head of company and commercial Martin Smith moved to DJ Freeman, the firm’s recent growth has been across the board. Last year it recruited a new head of commercial, John Stobart, formerly the in-house counsel with FTSE 250 company Taylor Nelson Sofres, and it has also announced the appointment of new private client partner Jane Cowley. She will join in January 2004 from Nelsons, where she was head of the family department in Leicester. The firm also has a strong reputation for its pro bono work, recently winning the title of the Law Society East Midlands Pro Bono Firm of the Year for its work with the Leicestershire Cares and ProHelp organisations.
“It’s very much part of our strategy,” says Finlay. “We’re part of the community, both the business community and the local community in general, and it’s something we encourage our lawyers to get involved in and make a contribution to.”
The firm has certainly made its mark in Leicester. It provides the president of the Leicestershire Law Society in property partner Henry Doyle, the president of the Leicestershire Chamber of Commerce in pensions partner Stephen Woolfe and one of only two lawyers on the Midlands Regional Environment Protection Committee in solicitor Debra Thatcher.
Senior partner: Phillip Lane
Managing partner: Chris Finlay
No of equity partners: 15
Total number of partners: 26
Total number of solicitors (excluding trainees, paralegals and legal executives): 59
Main practice areas: Commercial litigation, commercial property and private client
Main clients: Alliance and Leicester, BSS , National Car Rental, Shoe Zone, Bostik, Golden Wonder, Weetabix, Vision Express, Leicester Football Club, Corgi Classics
No of offices: Two (from 21July 2003)
Locations: Leicester and Birmingham (from 21 July 2003)