Ambrose Appelbe

As a London firm that once had clients on its books including Ingrid Bergman and ex-Kenyan president Jomo Kenyatta, Ambrose Appelbe has a rich history.

Founded in 1935 and based in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the firm specialises in matrimonial law, private client and charity work, and since the onset of the recession managing partner Lisa Bolgar Smith has dealt with an influx of divorce cases as couples wrangle for custody over their diminishing assets.

Long-standing clients are also reviewing ­settlements linked to bonuses or profit-sharing that have since failed to materialise as companies tighten their belts.

“We’ve not made any redundancies yet. Trusts, probate and matrimonial services are still in demand so we’re doing okay,” says Smith, who started her career at a legal aid firm in Kentish Town before moving to Ambrose Appelbe in 1990. After the ­partnership split in 1995 she seized the opportunity to take it over and keep alive the tradition of the firm.

“The firm has a very loyal client base dating back to generations of families. Even my secretary has been with me for 15 years,” she says, adding that the “partner-led, personal service” ethos at the firm has served it well and continues to this day.

Another interesting fact is that Carrie Morrison, the first female solicitor, was once a partner at the firm. Legend has it that Morrison was part of a group of female trainees who were all due to become solicitors at the same time, so in order to pick someone as the first woman to qualify, they tested their sporting prowess with a running race down Chancery Lane. Morrison triumphed for the title.

The firm still maintains a link to its past with the original founder’s son Felix Appelbe working as a consultant in the private client department.

Having increased its turnover every year for the past three years, from £1.5m in 2005-06 to £2m in 2007-08, Smith is hoping that the firm’s colourful past, which includes acting for long-term clients such as Save the Elephants (co-founded by Ambrose Appelbe), will continue to build the firm’s reputation as lawyers for the London set.

Managing Partner: Lisa Bolgar Smith
Turnover: £2m
Number of partners: Five
Number of equity partners: One
Number of lawyers: 10
Number of fee-earners: 13
Number of offices: Two
Location: London and Gloucestershire
Main practice areas: Family, private client, dispute resolution, agency, property, employment
Clients: Save the Elephants, Lotusflower, World Headache Association, Calm, HNW