Niche construction firm Fenwick Elliott has restructured its partnership with dispute resolution partner Simon Tolson replacing Robert Fenwick Elliott as senior partner. Fenwicks will become a consultant for the firm on 1 April (The Lawyer, 18 March).
Tolson says: “Robert had wound down over the past few years and his leaving hasn't had a fantastic effect on the firm. Myself and a few other partners beneath me were bringing in the lion's share of clients. His role has been a flagship one for a while.”
Tolson has expansion plans for the firm, hoping to grow the partnership from its current number of 10 to around 15 within two years. He has been with the firm since 1987 as a newly-qualified solicitor and was made an equity partner in 1989. The firm is in talks with two potential partners, which Tolson hopes to publicise by the autumn.
“I'm seeking, as senior partner, to grow our size to somewhere between 15 and 20 partners,” he says. “As one gets bigger, one tends to lose control of the machine. That tends to result in at least an unhappy extra tier of administration. What I've always liked about this practice is being able to oversee directly what's going on.”
The past 18 months have seen a change in focus for the firm, which is historically known for its contentious work. Of its £4m turnover, 30 per cent now comes from non-contentious work and turnover has doubled in the past two years.
“Turnover doesn't always equate to profitability; we've always been a very profitable practice,” says Tolson. He was unwilling to release profit per partner figures but boasts that they are higher than his competitors'. “It's come about partly through demand and partly through conscious strategy. We're now acting for clients right across the spectrum,” he comments.
Newly-appointed partner Chris Whittington from Shoosmiths is expected to develop non-contentious work further. He is currently working on a £300m development in Knightsbridge.
Originally founded in 1981, the firm suffered a minor split in 1985, but no partners have left the firm since 1995, demonstrating a successful recruitment policy. The specialist construction market is small and caution is exercised over the push for growth. Obviously, the firm is well established with a good track record, but Tolson thinks that it is the level of motivation found within the office that makes Fenwicks stand out.
The firm, which is based on the Strand, has recently taken on an extra 6,500sq ft of office space further along the Strand and is now coping with the logistical difficulties of a split site.
There have been around 6,000 adjudications since the Housing Act came into force in May 1998 and Fenwicks has handled more than 10 per cent of them. Other key areas are the oil and gas industries and non-contentious work for railways.
One of the largest cases the firm has acted on in the past 10 years is for Techint, a South American oil company. Tolson dealt with the multibillion-pound arbitration through ICC, with High Court spinoffs. The settlement was reached on 16 May.
The firm has recently won work with London Underground and a major London hotelier.
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