Since its demerger from Bevan Ashford in 2004, Exeter-based Ashfords has aimed to hightlight its independence in an effort to win new clients.
Initially the firm built its presence across the South West with clients such as Devon County Council and the University of Exeter on its books. But as more companies look beyond London for advisers, Ashfords has steadily built up a national reputation.
“Projects and PFI is a fast-growing area for us,” says chief executive Ian Daniells. “Initially it was London firms who picked up this work, but then some came out to Bristol and now a lot’s coming to Exeter. It shows you don’t need to be everywhere to get this type of work.”
Indeed, the firm has recently won a place on the panel of Wandsworth Borough Council and Southwark Council in London.
Ashfords’ work is “roughly split” 50-50 between regional and national clients, says Daniells, who adds: “Local work is extremely important to us – it’s where we get most of our private client work from.”
Private client work dominates Ashfords’ Tiverton office, while the Exeter, Plymouth and Taunton offices are considered commercial strongholds.
The firm uses a variety of methods to win clients. It recently won a place on the Welsh Assembly’s panel following a tender process. “Increasingly clients are contacting us to invite us to tender,” says Daniells. “We’re on the radar, which we weren’t five years ago when we were Bevan Ashford.”
Work is also referred to the firm by its international network Advoc, which was established in the late 1980s by Bevan Ashford. “Most of our instructions are coming from within the EU, but we’re seeing more and more work from the US,” adds Daniells.
Partner relations and client referrals underpin the firm’s growing client base, and Daniells says Ashfords aims to increase turnover to £50m within five years.
“We’re expanding between 15 per cent and 20 per cent a year and there’s a limit to that kind of expansion in the local market,” he explains.
The firm, which made four lateral hires last December, including that of PFI and projects partner Mark Jury from Norton Rose, plans to uphold expansion with a recruitment drive.
“We’re in a decent part of the world where overheads aren’t high and we’re able to get decent work. That’s the primary reason for our success,” Daniells concludes.
Chief executive:Ian Daniells
Number of partners: 55
Number of lawyers: 155
Main practice areas: Property, commercial, private client
Key clients: South West Regional Development Agency, BT Group Legal Services, Devon & Cornwall Housing Association, Devon County Council
Number of offices: Six
Locations: Bristol, Exeter, London, Plymouth, Taunton, Tiverton