This resilience is partly down to the lawyers’ ability to retool or employ transferable skills in other areas of the firm’s practice.
“Even in property,” adds Sheath, “there are certain different specialisms that have been keeping our lawyers busy, such as public sector, while employment has been vibrant.” In contrast Sheath admits that the firm’s company and commercial team has been ”quieter” – although he adds that it “held up quite well”.
Overall Brachers’ year was “a mixed bag”, Sheath says – although one that resulted in the firm posting only a slightly reduced turnover of £10.8m for the 2008-09 financial year.
The recession coupled with the looming changes introduced by the Legal Services Act are all part of what Sheath calls “adapting to the new landscape”.
Three years ago the new landscape for Brachers, then an £11.2m-turnover firm targeting £20m, looked likely to feature a merger. Back then Sheath told The Lawyer: “We’re looking at merger possibilities and bolt-ons rather than organic growth because we don’t think there’s sufficient time to grow organically to the size we want to be.” (The Lawyer, 20 November 2006.)
hree years on and the firm’s growth has stalled and a transformative merger does not appear to be on the horizon. “In the past five years we did look at mergers, but it’s all about finding the firm that fits,” argues Sheath.
The process of vetting potential merger partners does at least promote self-analysis, something that has led Brachers to opt for organic development. It is now focusing strategically on strengthening the practice areas the firm believes it can successfully develop to make it more profitable. These include agriculture, corporate, construction and public sector work – in particular in relation to the NHS.
“We’re now focusing on cross-selling between groups within the firm,” explains Sheath. ”Adaptability is the key.”
Managing partner: John Sheath
Number of partners: 25
Number of equity partners: 13
Number of lawyers: 65
Number of fee-earners: 103
Number of offices: Two
Locations: Maidstone, Tunbridge Wells
Main practice areas: Agriculture, corporate, construction, debt collection, employment, litigation, private client
Clients: Clydesdale Bank, Hadlow College, HSBC, RBS, South East Water