Webster Dixon is the first firm in the City to be founded by black lawyers. However, the partners would like to make clear that it is a claim to fame that does not influence recruitment. “We just want the best, and if the best person for a position happens to be a gay, one-legged Rastafarian, then that’s the person I want out in front of my client,” says Dawn Dixon, joint managing partner of the five-year-old commercial firm based in – as they put it – “the heart of legal London” (ie New Fleet Street, just off Chancery Lane).
Dixon set up the firm with Michael Webster a few years after both made partner in their firms at the tender ages of 28 and 29 respectively. Webster had been an in-house lawyer at Lehman Brothers and head of litigation at London firm Conway & Co, while Dixon was at William Heath & Co. Webster Dixon was set up in a basement in Chancery House, Chancery Lane, in 1998. It is now a 13-strong practice with six fee-earners.
The firm specialises in mainstream commercial work aimed at clients from large corporations, small niche companies, partners or sole traders, breaking down into five areas: business disputes, company/ commercial, employment (contentious and non-contentious), private client and property.
Both founding partners are known for their extracurricular activities in tackling discrimination issues within the profession. Dixon is chair of the London Association of Women Solicitors and Webster spent four years as secretary for the Society of Black Lawyers. So is it important to the firm’s identity that it is a black firm competing in a predominantly white City? “It doesn’t bother me at all,” says Dixon. “In fact, when people say you must be really brave it annoys me, because I’m a lawyer, and what do they expect me to do?”
Its choice of location was important to the firm in announcing its intention to be a City firm. “It’s no use doing what we’re doing on Brixton High Street,” says Dixon. “We’d be surrounded by people who look like us but they aren’t the business community that we want to attract.”
The firm recently moved into Stephens Innocent’s (now Finers Stephens Innocent) old accounting department, but has outgrown it and is now looking for a new home. The partners would like the firm to grow to a manageable size of 30-40 fee-earners. “If there are more than that we might feel uncomfortable,” Dixon says. “When you start a firm it’s like a child and you have to learn to let go.”
The firm was profiled last week by The Voice, the newspaper for the Afro-Caribbean community, because of its work on the film Emotional Backgammon. In the article, the firm was described by one client, the director of London radio station Choice FM Neil Kenlock, as “an inspiration to others to get to the centre of the legal world”.
“We’re punching above our weight,” Dixon reflects. “We’re giving the impression that we’re bigger than we are because we’re doing what lawyers are meant to do – providing a good service to the client and not trying to reinvent the wheel. It’s purely incidental that we’re black, but maybe that’s to our advantage – perhaps we feel, subconsciously, that we have something to prove.”
|Joint managing partners||Dawn Dixon and Michael Webster|
|Number of equity partners||Two|
|Total number of lawyers||Six|
|Main practice areas||Business disputes, company/commercial, employment (contentious and non-contentious), private client and property|
|Key clients||Leon Herbert (the writer, director and star of new film Emotional Backgammon) and radio station Choice FM|
|Number of offices||One|