Despite being the county town of Lancashire and boasting its own bar, Preston’s legal market has a reputation for being sleepy. It therefore came as a surprise to many when in February 2003 Preston-based Ricksons snapped up the three-partner personal injury (PI) team from Whittles.
The team, led by partner Glyn Jones, who is currently advising on the Selby rail crash, advises clients such as Fortis, Direct Line Group and Groupama. Its arrival will boost the firm’s annual turnover by an estimated £1m.
Ricksons has been around for 30 years. Peter Rickson switched from being a chartered insurer to set up the firm in 1974. It remained a wholly Preston-based PI firm until 1990, when it moved into Manchester on the back of strengthening relationships with major
insurers such as Eagle Star, which had substantial operations in Manchester.
It was the success of this office that prompted the launch of a Preston-based commercial practice. That five-partner team is now headed by partner John Hartup, formerly with DLA.
Ricksons employs more than 150 people, half at the Preston HQ, including 12 partners. Manchester has five partners, Birmingham two and Leeds five. Preston accounts for around 40 per cent of turnover and Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds around 20 per cent each.
Managing partner Anthony Hughes’s aim is to see all four offices achieving similar turnovers to Preston’s, which is currently just under £3m. This year’s budgeted firm turnover is £7.9m.
The firm has had a presence in Birmingham since 1993, following the acquisition of small local practice Robert Walters. That was followed in 1999 with the opening of an office in Leeds.
“Leeds was more of a speculative venture,” says Hughes. “We’d identified an opportunity as we saw that one of our major clients, Iron Trades, didn’t have representation in the Leeds area at that time. So we opened up a small office there. With the acquisition of the team from Whittles, that office has now tripled in size.”
The firm faced tough competition in poaching Jones and his team, with several national firms reportedly in the chase. “We were competing against some very big names, but we managed to secure his services because we could offer a level of individuality he couldn’t get in a much larger firm,” says Hughes.
Hughes has been managing partner since 2000, having been selected unopposed aged just 33, despite having been an equity partner for only three years.
He is committed to retaining the firm’s independence and his strategy is one of continued expansion, targeting disillusioned teams as potential lateral hires or small firms for acquisition. “We want to maintain our independence and we’re actively looking to increase our critical mass,” he says. “Our current management structure is strong enough to cope with us being a much bigger firm and we feel we need to be bigger to continue to compete.”
Preston is currently the only office with a corporate/commercial capability, the others relying solely on PI. Hughes sees the expansion of the corporate/commercial practice to all four offices as a key target.
“It’s a very different market, but we believe it’s one in which we can be successful,” he mantains. “We did contemplate pulling out of commercial altogether at one stage, but because of the marketplace in Preston, where local competition is much smaller, we felt there was a real commercial opportunity that it would be foolish to turn our back on.”
|Managing partner||Anthony Hughes|
|Total number of partners||24|
|Number of equity partners||11|
|Total number of solicitors||40|
|Main practice areas||Commercial litigation, commercial property, corporate, employment and personal injury|
|Key clients||CGNU, Fortis, Iron Trades, Layton Blackham Group, Luminar and Preston North End Football Club|
|Number of offices||Four|
|Location||Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Preston|