Brief encounter: henmans

For a small regional firm, Oxford-based Henmans enjoys strong brand recognition. Not surprising really, given that the managing partner's son is none other than tennis star Tim Henman.

The firm itself has enjoyed its greatest successes in professional indemnity, most recently retaining its place on the panel of Hiscox, one of the largest Lloyd's syndicates. Hiscox took the decision this month to trim its panel to just 15 firms in the UK and 15 in the US, with Henmans surviving the cull along with Bond Pearce, Fishburn Morgan Cole, Kennedys and Reynolds Porter Chamberlain.

Also this month, the firm survived the shake-up at St Paul International, the insurer which controls 30 per cent of the market, following the demise of the Solicitors Indemnity Fund (SIF) last year.

St Paul, like Hiscox, also reviewed its panel of firms for solicitors' professional indemnity in the UK. The result is that Henmans has now emerged as one of the most powerful regional post-SIF panel firms, acting for about 30 different insurers.

Henmans first procured SIF work alongside Cripps Harries Hall in 1993. The two were the only firms outside the M25 on the panel and even survived the cull that reduced the panel from 22 to 14 last February (The Lawyer, 21 February 2000). As well as the panels of Hiscox and St Paul, Henmans remains on the panels of AXA, Zurich, QBE, ACE and Alexander Forbes Risk Services. Later this month, Lindsay Jones will join the professional indemnity team from the Bristol office of SIF.

There are many firms now in the region, including US joint venture Brobeck Hale and Dorr and UK firm Manches, that have moved to the area to win lucrative work from the technology and biotechnology sectors. Henmans has resisted such temptations and continues to focus on its core strengths, most obviously in the insurance field. However, in another of last year's many panel reviews the firm did win work from computer services giant EDS. Although EDS says the bulk of its transactional work will continue to go to City giants Allen & Overy and Clifford Chance, it took a strategic decision to outsource more work to smaller, regionally based firms, including Henmans.

The firm is also making inroads in commercial and agricultural property and employment work. Another big client win came in December 1999, as a result of a competitive tender made by resident charities expert, partner Peter Jeffreys, when, along with City firm Withers, Henmans was appointed by the RSPCA to advise the animal welfare charity's legacy department.

And now, Henmans is building a marine insurance practice after taking on Jane Martineau from Clyde & Co in January 2000.

Henmans exemplifies the cost benefit of looking to the regions. Hourly rates range from £115 for associates to £150 for partners.

Unlike many firms which spend their lives courting potential merger partners or recruiting wildly, 15-partner Henmans appears content with its small and beautiful formula.

The Oxford and Thames Valley region continues to support a strong market for more traditional firms and, while it doubtless would like to expand, Henmans' recognised clout in the insurance sector is helping it to profit.