: Thomas Sheppard
Total number of partners: 28
Total number of lawyers: 97
Main practice areas: Agriculture, claimant personal injury, corporate and commercial, private client
Key clients: Future Publishing, Man ERF UK and Reckitt Benckiser
Number of offices: Three
Location: Bath, Newbury and Swindon
West Country firm Thring Townsend has had an eventful few years. Since the 2000 merger the firm has moved away from its private client roots and focused on commercial work. In the process, it shut its bulk mortgage and conveyancing arm in July 2003, making 75 redundancies and cutting £2m in turnover.
The move is paying dividends and the lost turnover has been replaced with higher margin work. Last year the corporate team advised on £500m worth of completed deals. It is winning work out of London and attracting quality fee-earners from City firms such as Bird & Bird and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer. And although the firm has shrunk in terms of the number of fee-earners, it is nevertheless projecting a growing turnover of £12.2m for its current financial year, which ends in April.
Managing partner Thomas Sheppard says the changes reflect the mood among many forward-thinking firms outside the City. “If they’re going to be successful, they need to find something different to offer,” he argues. “The biggest trend [among regional firms] is the polarisation between those firms that are embracing the new world of high competition and which can identify specialist areas, and those that don’t. The latter are the ones that may not be around in five years.”
The chances are that Thring Townsend will still be trading in 2010. It is already a good alternative in the South West to the major Bristol firms and, according to a local recruitment consultant, the firm genuinely offers a good work-life balance. “The mood is changing,” he says. “There are more two to three-year-PQE lawyers these days not automatically taking the Osborne Clarke or Burges Salmon route.”
The kind of quality work that is attracting these lawyers is evidenced by a recent deal win for Thring Townsend. The firm is advising a major truck manufacturer on a €1.6bn (£1.11bn) supply deal. The client plumped for Thring Townsend over a City giant after the South West firm had taken the initiative and doorstepped its client. “A group of our guys went to Germany and sat there until we’d won the work,” says Sheppard.
Corporate may be steaming ahead, but the firm has not forgotten its roots. It advises the National Farmers Union on the whole of southern England except Devon, Cornwall, Kent and West Sussex, and the firm is also well known for its claimant personal injury (PI) practice. Indeed, earlier this year Thring Townsend claims to have pioneered a solution to a regular problem in the PI business. A number of serious injury claims involving children often lie dormant for years until the child reaches 21. The move on behalf of Thring Townsend client Sabre Insurance involved initiating proceedings itself to force the child claimant to progress the claim. The case, handled by partner Melanie Richens, is currently ongoing.