Dibb Lupton Broomhead is not a firm which does things by halves. Less concerned with making friends than with making profits, the firm's approach to a new market might be expected to be loud and proud.
That's certainly what happened in Manchester. Top firms in the city bristle at the mention of Dibbs, and mutter darkly of noisy lawyers. But in Birmingham the commonly-held perception of the firm's rivals is that after the fanfare of arrival there has been little noise, and consequently, little action.
Is the firm taking a different route into the city? “They have deliberately adopted a different approach in Birmingham,” says one competitor partner. “I think the jury's out at the moment. I do expect them to become more active, but so far we haven't seen much of them.”
But Dibbs' Birmingham head, John Winkworth-Smith, refutes any suggestion that his office is adopting a softly-softly approach. Much of the past year has been spent on PR, such as the
firm's role as patrons of Symphony Hall.
Edge & Ellison senior partner John Aucott (one of the few to actually go on the record about Dibbs) says the firm is finding it hard in Birmingham. “They've tried to recruit people from all the main firms here and have failed. People are suspicious about the culture,” he says.
Another big four corporate partner agrees. “Anybody who wants to come into our market outside London is going to find it difficult.”
But the firm says that it is building its name up among the people who matter, the clients. It can point to a recent survey of advisors where corporate lawyer Nick Seddon was voted fifth legal adviser and the firm itself voted number six.
Perhaps part of the approach lies with Winkworth-Smith himself, one of the original Broomhead lawyers, gracious in his admiration for the city's other firms and an exponent of the Dibbs philosophy of businessmen lawyers – something which has taken up much of his time at the office. “Needham & James had lost its way when the recession hit,” he says. “We have sought to change the culture of Needham & James into the Dibbs culture. That has now been achieved.”
Whether other firms will be so dismissive in a year's time remains to be seen.