Moore & Blatch

It looks like a tall order, but Moore & Blatch swears that profits will increase

Moore & Blatch, which has two of its four offices in Southampton, hopes to be able to increase profitability by 86 per cent in the next year. Turnover grew from £5.8m in 1999 to £8.5m in 2001, but projections for 2002 show show only a marginal increase to £8.6m. How, then, will it achieve improvements in efficiency to boost profitability so significantly? “By working more smartly and increasing the use of technology,” says managing partner Michael Caton.
Caton wants to encourage more lawyers to work from home. “Fee-earner productivity can increase quite dramatically. You're looking at a good eight chargeable hours. It also helps with recruitment,” he says. Recruitment last year increased the firm's size by 40, adding about £1m to the payroll.
The firm is split into four divisions: personal injury (PI), private client, commercial (comprising corporate commercial, litigation and employment) and property. Caton says: “Profitability fluctuates, as each core area is in a different business cycle. The reason we're as balanced as we are is precisely as a defence against market fluctuations. Private client and personal injury is recession-proof and accounts for around 53 per cent of our fee-income. Corporate and property are the first to go in any recession.” However, the least profitable area of work is currently PI, due to low margins.
Caton objects to private client work being classed as the poor partner to commercial work. He says that it is that side of the business that generates stability and where the firm's history lies. “We have more than 200 years of good will in Lymington, where the firm started,” says Caton. “We're able to cream the best out of a very wealthy area. It's not a service where we compete on price. Our commercial practice was started cold in 1975 in Southampton.”
Competitors have had a presence in Southampton for hundreds of years and Caton considers this to be a stumbling block. “It's not a situation where, like many of the firms in the city, we can boast good clients who pay regardless,” says Caton. “The target market that we go after typically is the owner-managed business – up to around £50m turnover. Most of the work comes through informal tenders or beauty parades where competition for the work is quite high. Your ability to value charge is extremely limited.”
In PI, the firm does some work for defendants, but acts predominantly for claimants. Caton says: “We did secure substantial damages for a child which, in ordinary circumstances, would have gone to the custody of the Court of Protection. About five years ago we started an investment fund's management operation and we were able to persuade the court the management of these monies was something that we could manage more efficiently than the Court of Protection.”
Recent transactions include the acquisition of The Dell, Southampton Football Club's old home ground, for Barratts, worth £5m. Other property clients include Bovis, Belways and McAlpines. The firm's principal employment client is Lloyds TSB.