FIRM PROFILE: Bates Wells & Braithwaite

They say the secret of career fulfilment is to enjoy and really believe in what you do. If that is the case, it may explain why John Trotter is such a happy man.
Trotter is the senior partner of Bates Wells & Braithwaite’s London office. He helped set up the City office of the Suffolk-based firm with Andrew Philips, now Lord Philips of Sudbury, in 1970.
It may now be best known for its charity practice, but that was
not always the way. Trotter says that the growth of the charities practice was due to the personal drive of the office’s founders.
“We started out in London primarily as company and commercial lawyers,” he explains. “There were only three of us and I worked in-house for several moneybrokers. We always had an interest in, and commitment to, charity work and human rights, however, so while I spent my days working for moneybrokers I was spending my other time doing test cases for Shelter, for example.”
The charity practice, led first by Philips and now by Stephen Lloyd, is the largest team, with six partners and 10 assistants. Charity clients account for around 50 per cent of the London office’s activity, although only 35 per cent is strictly charity-related – the rest is non-charity work for charity clients, such as commercial property or intellectual property. The property team, for example, is working on one of the City’s largest deals – the multimillion-pound relocation of Save the Children Fund.
Other key practice areas include Trotter’s own area of administrative law and general litigation, as well as company/commercial, employment and immigration.
Turnover is calculated on an individual office basis; London’s turnover last year was £7m, up 17 per cent on the year before. This year’s target is £8m.
Although a single partnership, the firm operates on a federal basis, with each office operating as a virtually self-contained unit. Each has its own senior partner and its solicitors rarely, if ever, move between locations. There are no managing partners either, as “the management role is carried out by the partnership as a whole,” explains Trotter.
He says practice area strengths differ between offices. Ipswich has a large insurance practice and does a lot of work for the Transport and General Workers Union, while the Sudbury office is a general market town practice.
Most of London’s growth has been organic. It expanded the partnership last year, accepting two new equity partners, Philip Kirkpatrick and Julian Blake, both of whom trained at the firm.
It also recruited two new partners for company/commercial in late 2001: property partner Juliusz Wodzianksi joined from Charles Russell along with former Fladgate Fielder partner Peter Bohm. Trotter hopes to recruit a further senior level company/commercial partner shortly, in line with the strategy of growing non-charity work.
“I’d like to develop the general commercial side of the practice to give us a better balance. I don’t want to change the charities side, as obviously it has a national reputation, but to bring other areas through so they’re as strong. That’s our objective,” he says.
One practice that will not be growing is family law. It split from the firm in 2001 to form a niche family practice. But the split was friendly. “It just didn’t fit in as well as the other departments and they decided to go their own way, but it was all very amicable and we still refer work to one another,” says Trotter.
Senior partner: John Trotter
Turnover: £10m
Number of offices: Three (Ipswich, London and Sudbury)
Number of equity partners: 10
Total number of partners: 22 in London; 12 more across the other offices
Total number of solicitors: 45
Main practice areas: Administrative, charities, company/commercial, employment and immigration
Main clients: Association of British Concert Promoters, Eden Project, Harley Davidson, HBG Properties, Independent Committee for the Supervision of Standards of Telephone Information Services (ICSTIS), Red Cross, Save the Children Fund and Tate Gallery