The Smith Partnership, with its headquarters in Derby, expects only a minimal rise in turnover while it makes the transition from criminal to commercial law.
The year ending December 2001 saw a turnover of £7m and the year ahead is forecast at £7.5m. Within the next three years, partner Christopher Else hopes his commercial litigation department, presently providing 40 per cent of litigation income, will become dominant, earning 60 per cent of the litigation fees. Litigation makes up around 60 per cent of the firm’s total income.
“To a large degree, we’re in the hands of the Lord Chancellor’s Department and funds allocated for criminal legal aid,” comments Else. “If we’re able to ride out rather difficult times where the squeeze is being put on legal aid without any increases being given, then fine. It’s very difficult to plan when the paymaster is in the hands of somebody else.”
Else expects matrimonial legal aid work to dry up and crime to be restricted further over the next three to five years. “If the present government has its way, I think the amount of profit we can make out of crime will be minimal,” he says. “Firms like ours will have to consider their positions.”
The 21-partner firm arrived via the amalgamation of PH Smith & Co and Brearley Mann in 1987. It concentrated on criminal law until Else joined from Needham & James in 1989 to start the commercial practice. Else and Peter Smith have since built up commercial litigation, debt recovery and commercial property.
“The commercial business has developed on the back of debt recovery,” says Else. “Clients include major brewers and office products and furniture company Viking Direct, particularly for property. Another key property client is British Midland.” Debt recovery is a particularly strong area and cross-selling will be key to developing other areas of the business. Commercial litigation is already on the increase.
The Smith Partnership prides itself on being able to offer what the client wants, even as far as bucket-shop work requiring low quotations. It has just quoted for a water board to do up to 45,000 actions a year. It requires a low quote per job, which the firm is able to provide because it puts experienced clerks on it. It also provides the high-end service needed to acquire clients such as the Glynwed Group.
The most recent new partners come from the 1999 merger with Millhouse & Rumble, when David Watson and Stephen Newcombe joined. Russell Davis is being promoted from salaried to equity partner as of 1 June. Industry talent Arthur Hastilow is developing a brewery services department, having joined the firm 18 months ago. Martin Brearley retires in June and will take on a consultancy role.
The firm is now acting for a major brewer on lots of recovery cases, many of which are worth over £30,000 each.
It is also involved in a family dispute to split up an aerodrome, 20 industrial units and 60 acres of land near