The demise of key client the Solicitors Indemnity Fund (SIF) has not proven as much of a blow as may have been expected for Tunbridge Wells firm Cripps Harries Hall. Its professional indemnity team, led by Gavin Tyler, has started taking instructions from claimants, it works for insurers St Paul and QBE Insurance Group, and still manages run-off work for SIF (The Lawyer, 3 September).
Cripps managing partner Jonathan Denny says: “We act on a huge range of negligence claims. The most noteworthy are the managed litigation issues where a single lender brings a raft of claims against any number of lawyers. We acted in relation to the Nationwide claims where Barlow Lyde & Gilbert were the lead firm and we were on the panel defending those claims. More recently, we have been coordinating the management of 120 claims brought by Abbey National.”
Cripps survived last year's cull, which reduced the SIF panel from 22 to 14 firms, and is still enjoying some run-off work for the fund, but the level of work has been steadily declining. While acting for SIF, Cripps was conflicted out of taking instructions from claimants because the fund insured all solicitors. The firm can now act for claimants as long as there is no conflict with the insurer.
“We act on a huge range of negligence claims. The most noteworthy are the managed litigation issues where a single lender brings a raft of claims against any number of lawyers”
Jonathan Denny, Cripps Harries Hall
Founded in 1852, Cripps is historically a high-street firm which has handled significant private client work. That began to change about 15 years ago, when it started to target commercial clients. Slowly, the network of branch offices were disbanded and the last, in Crowborough, was sold off in May 2001. Former Cripps partners Trevor West and Pauline Donaldson acquired the Crowborough practice, which now operates under the name Donaldson West.
Cripps has 300 staff, with 32 partners and 135 fee-earners. They all work from Tunbridge Wells, barring the occasional trip to the London office. Denny believes it is this single-office unity that gives the firm strength to compete with the larger London firms. Turnover last year was up 12.5 per cent to £15.2m and the budget for the year ahead is £17.5m. Average profits per partner also leapt up from £94,000 to £143,000. Placed at number 92 in The Lawyer 100, it looks as though the plan is starting to work.
Recruitment has probably been the largest single exercise undertaken this year with no fewer than six lateral hires. Bill Mackie joined in August 2000 from Wates Group, as did Kate Robinson from Herbert Smith. Stephen Williams, formerly a Linklaters & Alliance partner and deputy director at the Office of the Rail Regulator, joined in February. Peter Garry, former managing partner and one of the founding partners of Ralph Hume Garry joined as a partner in the dispute resolution department in March. And finally, Anne Lewis, who was head of private client at Amery-Parkes, joined the firm at the beginning of September.
Denny is pleased with the nature of work the firm has picked up in the past 12 months. “We acted for HM Customs & Excise in a major project involving the transfer of its estate from the public to the private sector. More recently, massive due diligence work was needed in relation to a structured lease-back of approximately 6.5 million sq ft of property for Abbey National. We've done a substantial amount of work as sub-contractors to Lovells, which was the lead firm,” he says.
Other clients include Swiss Life, Union Railways (South), South East Water, Blaze Neon, and Brighton & Hove Council. With £400m of funds under management, private banking is also looking rosy for the future.