LESTER ALDRIDGE

Lester Aldridge's restructure has led to a period of rapid expansion

South West firm Lester Aldridge has increased its size from a one-office practice to three in just two years. There are now 33 partners and another 89 fee-earners. It has grown from 180 people to 280 in 18 months. Turnover rose at the rate of 22 per cent last year and is expected to reach £13m this year. Average profits per partner has now hit £140,000. It now has its eye on the likes of Blake Lapthorn, Shoosmiths and Bond Pearce.
The firm has taken a second office in Southampton and a third at Bournemouth Airport. Roger Woolley, who became managing partner in November 2000 to oversee the expansion, says it has been a surprisingly smooth ride. How has the firm achieved this success? “Luck,” he says. “We restructured two years ago, adopting a more corporate structure. We invested in management training for team leaders, trying to run the business as a business, rather than as a legal practice. We created separate business units with their own budgets. As managing partner, I have the authority to get on and run the business.”
The Southampton office was opened in February 2001 after acquiring a three-lawyer shipping team from Shoosmiths in December 2000. Even before the lease was signed another floor was needed and the office made a profit in its first eight months. “I expect most of the firm's immediate growth to come from here,” says Woolley. There are already 35 staff and the intention is to grow that to 100 within two years.
The newest office opened in July 2002 and houses the firm's debt recovery and mortgage processing departments. “We were running out of space at the Bournemouth main office and these two fast-growing areas wanted a different kind of space,” says Woolley. The firm has undertaken a refitting programme of the 12,000 sq ft one-floor office, which it intends to continue over the next few years. There are three partners based there, all of whom were transferred from Bournemouth.
The firm is the result of the 1988 merger between Mooring Aldridge and Lester & Russell. The aim is to grow the firm to around 500 people within five years. There are three partners likely to join in the next six months. The most recent new partners are Rosemary Parr, who joined in February 2001, Jon Kelly, who arrived from Parker Bullen in April 2001, and Robert Chapman, who came from Osborne Clarke in May 2001. Michel Barcia, an accountant who joined as a director, has been at Lester Aldridge for three months. He has experience both client-side and within other legal practices. And yes, Big Brother's PJ will start as a trainee this month.
The firm has acted for Biffa recently in one sale and four acquisitions. It has just completed a joint venture agreement for Flight Refuelling Group with Singapore Airlines in relation to providing a European aircraft maintenance facility. It has also been acting for Orb Estates and its subsidiary Poole Pottery in relation to a major redevelopment on the Poole waterfront. The overall value of this development is £36m. Other clients include Sony, BP Oil and Xerox.