Last Cawthra Feather recently acquired the Bradford office of Ralph C Yablon, adding two partners to its number (The Lawyer, 5 November). Managing partner Simon Stell says: “Ralph C Yablon was coming to the end of its lease, wasn't filling the space and we were able to accommodate it. The advantage of Bradford is that property is cheap and spacious. And it was bringing its work and clients – principally the Bradford and West Yorkshire property-based corporate clients and the connections for personal injury and litigation.”
Now a 14-partner firm, Last Cawthra has 110 staff across three sites in Bradford, Shipley and Ilkley. It was created at the same time as Hammond Suddards in 1988, when the branch offices of Last Suddards became Last Cawthra. In 1999, the firm merged with Last & Company, gaining two partners.
Stell joined in 1996 from Hammonds to grow the corporate department and shift the emphasis away from private client. He was made managing partner in 1997.
“Historically, many lawyers got promoted to being managers without any training and didn't really want to do it in the first place,” says Stell. “We think we can add value to the business by taking all that worry away from the lawyers.”
The plan for the future is to bolster the company commercial department, to allow for the expected slide in residential property with the onslaught of electronic conveyancing. “We want to diversify to ensure that we have, as far as possible, proof against changes in the legal marketplace,” says Stell. With local tenders Last Cawthra would expect to be on the list representing firms outside Leeds. Lower property overheads allow for competitive fees, although salaries are comparable to Leeds.
“We're teasing out of all our lawyers the ability to cross-sell,” says Stell. “It's often the failing of many lawyers. We're training them to connect and recognise the opportunity.”
“We're teasing out of all our lawyers the ability to cross-sell. It's often the failing of many lawyers. We're training them to connect and recognise the opportunity”
Simon Stell, Last Cawthra
The firm has invested heavily in its information technology capability. The firm now has case management systems and IT personnel. Stell says: “During the past five years we've been building a stronger organisation. We recruited a practice director, Cleo Holmes, in June this year from Addleshaw Booth & Co. We recognised the need to increase the flow of information to make better decisions.”
Of the firm's £3.5m turnover, 30 per cent comes from property, both commercial and residential. But personal injury is growing fast and the firm has collected for clients about £6m in damages in the past six months.
Stell says: “In 2001 we acted for the claimant in the House of Lords decision of Lister, about vicarious liability. The local authority was found responsible for the actions of its employees.” It was a case of abuse in a children's home.
Lawyer Helen Rice-Birchall was recruited September 2001 from Pinsent Curtis Biddle. Robert McGough left the firm earlier this year to join rival Gordons Cranswick and has been replaced by John Barker from Hammond Suddards Edge, Manchester. There have been five other fee-earners recruited this year. Robert Stewart and Paul Morris, both from Ralph C Yablon, are the most recent partners to join.