“We do one thing and we do it exceptionally well,” says Laura Devine. “We have specialist expertise in all aspects of immigration.” Devine set up City immigration practice Laura Devine Solicitors (LDS) a year ago after splitting from Eversheds, where she was a consultant. “We don’t concentrate on any other area other than immigration,” she emphasises, “which means we’re not competing against lawyers in different areas.”
Devine’s firm has grown steadily since it was set up in June 2003. It is now the largest immigration niche practice in the City. Devine trained at Cameron Markby Hewitt (now CMS Cameron McKenna), moved on to Barclays and then established an immigration practice at Coopers & Lybrand (now PricewaterhouseCoopers). In 1996, she established a specialist immigration team structured as a joint venture with Eversheds – and last year, the team went out on its own.
“The move was pretty risky,” admits LDS partner Owen Davies. “We worked out our six months at Eversheds and then had to get professional indemnity insurance and find suitable premises. When we left, everyone came across with us, and consequently everyone has had an interest in making the practice work.”
In addition to the whole team transferring, the vast majority of clients also made the move. Devine noted: “We have a very loyal corporate client base who’ve responded to our continuity. Over the course of the move, we’ve had the same lawyers, the same support staff and the same clients, making it so much easier to leave a large organisation and, additionally, helping us remain cost-effective.”
Devine believes the single focus of the practice is a great benefit to clients. “We know we can answer our clients’ concerns immediately,” she says. “Large law firms have to resort to research in order to answer all queries, but because our 10 lawyers work in this area all day, every day, answers are to hand.”
LDS has expertise in UK and US immigration law and advises on European free movement and global immigration issues, either on an in-house basis or through project-managing the services of its network of overseas lawyers. The firm advises businesses and individuals in all sectors relating largely to the transferring of staff and issues confronting new businesses established in the UK. It does not deal with asylum issues. As Davies says: “We target overseas clients with offices in the UK, and this work accounts for 10 per cent of our turnover. We’re also expanding our US practice in an attempt to develop a global business.”
International immigration work has spanned India, Japan and China. The firm has links with government bodies and embassies all over the world and is currently advising the Chinese authorities on reviewing its immigration system. Davies says: “In common with many of our clients, the Chinese authorities were recommended to us by another client. Over the last 12 months, we’ve been adding clients every few months without the need to market ourselves.”