The Lawyer UK 200 Rank62

Birketts dates back to 1863 when Benjamin Birkett – newly-qualified at the ripe old age of 42 – arrived in Ipswich to set up a practice. It grew and prospered in the town quite unremarkably for over 100 years. The first real game-changing moment for the firm came on 1 October 1989 when it entered into a three-way merger with Westhorpes and Smith Morton & Long. Birketts and Westhorpes were Ipswich’s two leading firms at the time. The former had

Birketts dates back to 1863 when Benjamin Birkett – newly-qualified at the ripe old age of 42 – arrived in Ipswich to set up a practice. It grew and prospered in the town quite unremarkably for over 100 years. The first real game-changing moment for the firm came on 1 October 1989 when it entered into a three-way merger with Westhorpes and Smith Morton & Long.

Birketts and Westhorpes were Ipswich’s two leading firms at the time. The former had strengths in litigation and private client; the latter in commercial and property, so the synergies were evident. It was about as literal a merger as it gets – the firms were neighbours and so walls were knocked through to connect the two.

The final firm in the threesome, Essex’s Smith Morton & Long, didn’t fit in quite so well, however. Cultural differences, combined with a recession, eventually saw a demerger of that firm in 1994.
By that time, however, Birketts was home to a group of a dozen or so partners whose ambition was greater than being the pre-eminent firm in Ipswich. In 2001 they hired its first non-lawyer CEO – then a novelty – and set about becoming the leading player in East Anglia.

Previously an Ipswich-only firm, a Norwich office opened 2004 and another in Cambridge in 2008. A Chelmsford presence was acquired in 2010 through a merger with £6m firm Wollastons, completing the geographical diamond.

Organic growth has followed in the wake of that merger, with revenue rising from £23.8m in the post-merger year of 2010/11 to £48.1m in 2017/18. The firm aspires to grow revenue between 8 to 10 per cent per annum, and with profit growth of between 4 and 7 per cent.

The firm acts mainly for SMEs, though it has a number of FSTE 100 clients. About 35 per cent of its business comes out of London. It has a very broad practice, including some areas unusual for a regional firm, such as a shipping disputes team.

Jonathan Agar, Birketts’ second CEO, came from Deutsche Bank and has led the firm since 2007.

Birketts’ leadership 1965 to present

Managing partner Senior partner
1965 Geoffrey Barnard
1985 John Mitson
1989 Douglas Cotton Chris Cocksedge
1995 Bob Wright
1999 Douglas Cotton
CEO Senior partner
2001 Alistair Lang
2006 Nigel Farthing
2007 Jonathan Agar
2016 James Austin