Since his departure from Crutes eight months ago, Brian Mackenow just hasn't had a minute to himself

It is eight months after the former head of Crutes in Sunderland Brian Mackenow struck out on his own with Brian Mackenow & Co. His new firm, though, claims to have retained 95 per cent of Crutes's Sunderland client base. It has seen more than £150,000 worth of new fees through the door and is winning new clients. Bah humbug! to those who anticipated failure.
It was October 2001 when Crutes decided that the Sunderland office was no longer part of its future (The Lawyer, 1 October 2001). Crutes senior partner Tim Wallis said at the time that it was largely an issue of efficiency. Mackenow now says: “I always thought it was a mistake. I think they wanted to be under less roofs and they saw us as a not-very-productive part of the empire. It's still amicable and I think Crutes is doing well; I hope they are. Our biggest difficulty has been the sheer volume of work. There were queues at the door on 1 October, literally out onto the street. The first day or two was hell.”
Mackenow brought six staff with him from the Sunderland office of Crutes and has since taken on one junior. He is the only partner and seems to make decisions with the backing of the staff. The feeling is that small is beautiful and there is no need for additional partners, although increasing the number of consultants is an option. A recent local Law Society meeting, where Mackenow is vice-president, considered the ramifications of setting up a skills register in order to keep work local.
The firm is very busy, with legal executives and paralegals stretched to fulfil their potential. Mackenow says: “We're senior staff. Between myself and my two senior executives, we've got around 82 years of practice in Sunderland.”
Mackenow is satisfied that the new venture has not had to go into overdraft, with overheads kept comparatively low. It has a fairly even split between private client and commercial work in terms of value, with Mackenow looking after the majority of the commercial practice. He is cautious about advertising, aware that turning work away has a negative knock-on effect. Key target areas for the future are elderly client law and property. Property prices in the Sunderland area have risen by 50 per cent in the last year.
Recent deals include the disposal of development land for the Boulevard Group for a sum in the region of £2m, a £1.8m residential acquisition for Gail Property Management and a £250,000 development project for a new bar for Wear 2000.
“Since we've gone solo, we've also attracted some spin-off work from other clients that we've known in the past but not acted for, who've come to us, at least in one case, because we're leaner and local,” comments Mackenow. “We've recently dealt with the management buyout of Lofthouse & Partners, one of the largest lettings and sales agents in Sunderland. John Hellens Contracts is another who we've attracted for its development work.”