Firm profile: Underwoods

Senior partner:

Kerry Underwood
Turnover: £1.5m
Total number of partners: Four
Total number of fee-earners: 12
Main practice areas: Company and commercial, employment, family, personal injury and private client
Key clients: Mainly private client
Number of offices: One
Location: Hemel Hempstead

Hemel Hempstead-based firm Underwoods has always prided itself on being ahead of the pack on taking risks. For example, in 1991 it became the first law firm to launch a prime-time television advertising campaign. This spring fans of Coronation Street will be able to discover more about the firm as a new £75,000 campaign is launched.

Underwoods senior partner Kerry Underwood claims the ads, which will run on ITV in the Thames Valley region, will be the first time family law services have been promoted in this way.

Underwood believes in bucking trends and the new advertising campaign is part of his latest strategic drive. Whereas many firms are readying themselves for the Clementi revolution by increasing in size and offering volume services, his firm is moving in the other direction.

“Where would you rather eat: at a nice restaurant, such as the Ivy, or at a McDonald’s?” he says. “I’m absolutely not interested in volume work for the sake of it. That’s not my idea of a law firm.”

In preparation for the threat of ‘supermarket law’, Underwood has been cultivating traditional private client work such as wills, tax planning, probate and trusts. His view is that the profession is “utterly underrepresenting” the potential of supermarkets, building societies and the like to encroach upon traditional legal work.

“If we’re wrong about the threat of supermarkets, then nothing is lost. But if I’m right, then there’s absolutely no point in competing on price,” he says. “We’re going for quality of service, which we’ve always had, and targeting areas of work where we think people will not be happy in dealing with large, impersonal corporations.”

He plans to concentrate on areas of work where clients expect a high level of personal service, “and frankly, to charge for that service”.

Underwoods prides itself on client care standards. For example, clients are promised £50 if phone calls are not returned and letters are not answered on the same day. The firm’s website ‘audits’ the performance of every fee-earner against 12 separate criteria. The firm is also unique in offering clients a free appeal procedure to a QC in the event of a client being unhappy about terms of settlement in a fixed-fee or contingency-fee case.

The Underwoods senior partner is best known in the profession for his thoughts on funding.

However, three years ago Underwoods dropped ‘no win, no fee’ and has been winding down its personal injury (PI) department ever since.

Underwood now pronounces PI work “dead”. He argues that PI lawyers are now so beholden to claims management companies that they are “totally dependent” upon them as work referrers.

“If you have a private supplier base, you’re secure,” he argues. “As I always say, even I can’t piss off 7,000 clients at once.”

Kerry Underwood
Senior partner