Clarkson Wright's careful approach to growth is paying off in spades

Orpington-based Clarkson Wright & Jakes has followed the trend of a number of small regional firms by creating the new non-legal position of chief executive, hiring former BMI Healthcare finance manager Frank Saxby. He started with the firm at the end of April, the intention being that he will alleviate the pressure of management on the legal team. Managing partner Claire Singleton expects to reap the most benefits once Saxby has become accustomed to operating in the legal field.
The most recent lateral hire is company commercial partner John Bowden, who joined the firm in January 2001 from his role as managing partner of local firm Chancellors with Lea Brewer & Co. Jeremy Groegr-Wilson is also due to start on 1 July from Canterbury firm Gardner & Croft.
Henry Clarkson Wright, the great-great-grandfather of one of the current partners, founded the firm in 1875. Originally a Lincoln's Inn firm, Clarkson Wright now has one main office in Orpington, which the firm extended to the office next door in January 2001 to boost floorspace by 50 per cent. There are now 10 partners and another 25 fee-earners. The new office houses the commercial practice, while private client and personal injury (PI) work is based in the original building.
With a turnover of £3.7m last year and a modest growth to £4m expected for this financial year, expectations are relatively conservative. Fifty per cent of the firm's turnover is derived from the commercial practice. Singleton says that the strategy for fee growth is just 10 per cent year on year.
“We don't think expediential growth is the be-all and end-all. We're more interested in the quality of the work we do,” says Singleton. She does, however, expect profitability to grow faster. Profit-per-partner figures currently stand in the £100,000-£150,000 range.
The hope is that changes made to IT will enable increased profitability, thus removing the need for many more personnel. “One of the major things we're doing this year is changing our software,” explains Singleton. “On the back of that, we're also looking at digital dictation. We have integrated software for file management and accounts at the moment.” The firm needs a management system that allows cross-departmental integration to be organised more efficiently.
The firm targets small and medium-sized enterprises, providing a partner-led service to those who may otherwise receive advice from lower-level staff if represented by the big City firms. Singleton admits that the firm is not going to get the corporate work from the multinationals; it is pitching itself at a different market.
Singleton has been involved in a Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) (Tupe) regulation case, which has gone to the Employment Appeals Tribunal. It is considering whether part of a contract, split into two at retender, constitutes an economic entity before it was transferred, and if not, does the Tupe regulation apply? There is no precedent case law and a decision has yet to be reached. Singleton undertook the advocacy in the original four-day tribunal hearing, instructing counsel from 11 King's Bench Walk.
The firm is on the RAC's panel and, as a result, undertakes a substantial amount of PI work. It has a clinical negligence franchise and has lawyers on the Action for Victims of Medical Accidents (Avma) panel.