In March 2002, former wing commander and Challinors Lyon Clark partnership secretary David Higson was elected as the firm’s new chief executive.
Higson joined the general practice firm 14 years ago, after senior partner Trevor Lee used the Officers’ Association for Retired Services Personnel as a recruitment agency. Since then the West Midlands firm has grown significantly both organically and through merger, when Challinors joined with Lyon Clark in 1996. There are now 25 partners, 56 other fee-earners and a turnover of £7m across three offices.
For the last two years, the firm has met its financial objective of increasing turnover by 50 per cent in every three-year rolling period, and Higson sees no reason for this to slow down.
Higson’s first set of objectives revolve around the improvement of services provided to the firm’s growing list of clients. “Their view of how good we are is how we deliver our advice,” he says. “I have set targets to improve the speed of communication and to make sure we speak to clients regularly. We’re looking at the number of files that each of our fee-earners are handling. I think there’s a tendency across the profession to handle more than you can cope with properly.”
Higson’s remit does not extend to the hiring and firing of partners, and spending decisions over a certain threshold are referred to the board, which meets once a month.
The firm has recently achieved public funding for a potentially huge class action. Higson expects the firm to act for between 300 and 500 local residents who are seeking a High Court injunction against a nearby foundry. “There are very few firms that are given major contracts from the Legal Services Commission to deal with this type of class action,” says Higson. “It’s a catch-22 – you can’t do it if you haven’t already done one, and we’ve managed to get in, so we’re very pleased with that.”
In April 2001, Challinors added a debt recovery service to its repossessions department. Not surprisingly in the current economic climate, it is not an area experiencing any growth. It does, though, provide a service to some clients, including Birmingham Midshires, Staffordshire Building Society and West Bromwich Building Society.
The firm also receives work from the Countryside Agency regarding the Millennium Green Initiative, the Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the National Governors’ Council.
At the end of last year, Challinors successfully completed a major piece of commercial litigation in the telecommunications industry. A favourable settlement was reached in the £10m case.
Four new partners – Andrew Bowden, Malford Harris, Angela Houston and Nigel Sellar – were made up on 1 October last year, two having joined from other firms several years ago.
“We don’t tend to recruit at partner level from other firms,” says Higson. “We’re very proud of our people. We have a lot of youngsters who are going to be fantastic, and therefore we want to concentrate on retention and training. They’re our future. We haven’t lost a qualified solicitor to another firm for about two years.”