‘Merger will create legal giant’, ran a headline in last week’s Yorkshire Post. However, Clifford Chance need not lose any sleep over the merger of Ashworth Tetlow, two fee-earners strong, and leading York firm Harrowell Shaftoe just yet. The addition of David Black and Alison Harris makes a combined firm of 160 staff, including 50 solicitors, meaning Harrowell Shaftoe ranks among the largest 25 law firms in Yorkshire and the Humber.
“Ashworth Tetlow is a well respected local York firm which has a niche practice dealing with commercial property that has its tentacles in wider commercial fields,” says Jackie Knights, managing partner at Harrowell Shaftoe. There is “no particular market force” making the merger happen other than the fact that there are close links between the firms and “it was the right time for them to join a practice where we have a strong team in commercial property”, she says. “The profile of their people has substantially improved the profile of our commercial property team, but we have the numbers as a back-up, which gives them a higher degree of comfort,” adds Knights.
Harrowell Shaftoe was established 100 years ago. “It’s traditionally been a high street firm, but in addition to those areas we’ve been delivering services to the business community,” says Knights. The firm has doubled in size in the last five years. What is driving that growth? “We have a good product and a happy workforce,” says Knights. “Actually, I’d put that the other way round. It’s about a workforce that is committed to giving good client service.”
Harrowell Shaftoe claims to have done a lot towards making sure its workforce is happy and in allowing staff to have a say in how the firm is run. “Any time there was any real difference between the values the partners originally considered and those the staff thought appropriate, we supported the staff,” says Knights.
Last October the firm became the first practice in York to introduce a formal system of flexitime. It applies to everyone, from the senior partner down, and is based on the public sector model. “There are core hours between 10am and 4pm, but you can build up hours to enable you to take a day off in the month, assuming that the department can cope,” she explains. “We were absolutely determined that flexitime wouldn’t interfere with our commitment to client service, and it hasn’t. People are very responsible about the way they use it.” It has meant that those staff members with families can make “satisfactory arrangements to deal with family responsibilities without suffering the psychological pressure at the beginning and end of the day”.
Knights explains that part of the firm’s commitment to delivering a good service is having a flexible approach to fees “and ensuring we’re able to adapt it to clients’ needs”. She continues: “We have a fee rate that reflects that and the risks we’re taking on the clients’ behalf. But because we have such strong links with the high street, we don’t want to frighten away our core clients, who’ve supported the firm for years. We don’t want a fee structure that will alienate people.”
Managing partner: Jackie Knights
Total number of partners: 17
Total number of fee-earners: 50
Main practice areas: Company and commercial, matrimonial, personal injury, private client and residential and commercial property
Key clients: Ainscough Crane Hire, Business Internet Directory Gaming Corporation
Location: Clifton Moor, Haxby and York