“The city is buzzing,” says Richard Smith, the managing partner at Southampton firm Paris Smith & Randall. “Southampton FC's not been in the final of the FA Cup since we won it in 1976. This town's going mad.”
The good fortune of the local team – at least until this weekend when they face Arsenal in Cardiff to contest the final – has a happy significance for the firm, as it is a major client. In fact, the firm advised on the club's move to the new St Mary's stadium the season before last.
From the beginning of the next football season, the 185-year-old law firm will see a second client, Portsmouth FC, enter the Premiership. As Smith points out, it is not a bad claim for a provincial firm. “The sports connection is important for the profile of the firm and it's an important part of the fees,” he says. “But it has also changed the image and the branding of the firm in this part of world.”
Paris Smith & Randall has 78 fee-earners, including 16 partners and six trainees. The workload is divided as follows: company and commercial 21 per cent; commercial property 20 per cent; tax and estate planning 14 per cent; family 14 per cent; residential property 13 per cent; litigation 13 per cent; and employment 5 per cent. Smith says that the firm is on target to post a turnover of £9m for the last financial year, an increase of 20 per cent on the previous year.
The firm claims to be going through a period of expansion “across the board”, and in the past few months has made five appointments – “or 'signings', as we call them down here,” Smith adds. The new recruits include Janet May, formerly the chief planning lawyer from Southampton City Council, and Simmons & Simmons' senior property lawyer Jonathan Wiese.
The sporting connection at the firm cuts across all practice areas and can be traced back to Cecil Paris, who was senior partner and who died a few years ago. He was captain of Hampshire County Cricket Club during the war and later became president of the MCC. Current senior partner Malcolm Le Bas, who specialises in commercial law with a special expertise on sports clients. The firm still acts for Hampshire and advised on its new stadium, the Rose Bowl International Standard Cricket Ground, which last year hosted a one-day international. On the work for the new Southampton stadium, the firm had eight property lawyers advising on the acquisition of the site and more lawyers working on the funding and licensing aspects. “It was a huge task,” says Smith. Portsmouth FC is also pushing ahead with plans for a new stadium.
There are a number of firms in the area that are a lot bigger than Paris Smith, such as Blake Lapthorn which is three times its size, Shoosmiths, Lester Aldridge and Bond Pearce, which has just made its presence felt in Southampton. However, Smith claims to be happy with the firm's relatively small size. “We've chosen not to be one of the very large firms and that is possibly down to a matter of culture at our firm,” he says.
Unlike its larger rivals, which have pursued aggressive recruitment strategies, occasionally at the expense of developing a rapid turnover of staff Smith claims, Paris Smith has stuck with the organic route. “We talk to other firms and merger is never out of the question, but we've so far grown without feeling the need,” says Smith.