Wake Smith

Senior partner:

Michael Tunbridge
Turnover: £6.67m (to April 2006)
Number of partners: 22
Number of fee-earners: 77
Key clients: HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland, RREEF, Sheffield City Council
Number of offices: Three
Locations: Sheffield

One of the largest and oldest firms in Sheffield and South Yorkshire is following an aggressive expansion strategy that should see it double its turnover within five years.

Wake Smith, a 22-partner firm established in 1802, set its current strategy early in 2005. The following year the firm acquired four-partner private client specialist Benson Clegg, giving Wake Smith a third office in Sheffield along with 15 lawyers and around £1.5m in additional revenue.

Now the firm is in advanced talks with another local outfit, which if successful will add a similar amount to turnover.

“Our strategy is for both organic growth and growth through merger,” says Wake Smith senior partner Michael Tunbridge. “We knew it would take at least two mergers to hit our target of doubling turnover by 2010.”

The current merger talks, although well advanced, are unlikely to be completed before the summer. In the meantime Tunbridge reveals that his firm is already talking to a third firm with a view to a deal.

“We’ve always looked for growth, but the 2005 strategy was the first time we’d codified it,” says Tunbridge. “To double our fee income would give us immeasurably more clout in our marketplace.”

That marketplace will remain Sheffield and the South Yorkshire region in terms of on-the-ground representation, but Tunbridge claims that the firm regularly handles matters from outside its local area.

Despite the firm’s growth ambitions, it has no plans to take a short cut and join forces with any of the larger national practices. “We also identified we don’t want to be the Sheffield office of Eversheds,” Tunbridge says.

The firm’s current financial year ends in April. It is projecting a 20 per cent increase in turnover, which would take it to £8m.

The largest group at the broad-based firm is personal injury, which is projecting an income of £2.2m for 2006-07. Wake Smith’s company and commercial department, which acts primarily for owner-managed businesses plus a handful of smaller plcs, chipped in with around £900,000 last year, having handled more than 75 deals in the past 12 months.

The commercial property team, the firm’s second-largest at £1.46m, also had a busy year. In particular partner Neil Salter was involved in several major deals, including acting for Sheffield City Council on two auctions, which saw 85 properties sold for around £6m, and on the Moor regeneration project in Sheffield.

The firm’s remaining departments are matrimonial and commercial litigation, which contributed £1.1m and £900,000 respectively last year.

Tunbridge says that, despite having three offices across Sheffield, the firm is “chocker”.

The partners, 10 equity and 12 salaried, have already discussed looking for a new site with the capacity to house all of the firm’s lawyers, but as Tunbridge says: “It’s very early days.”