Not yet 10 years old, four-office litigation practice Palser Grossman already has an enviable profit record. The average profit per partner figure for each of the past three years was in excess of £500,000, although that figure will be affected by the recent appointment of four new equity partners. Since 1 December 2001, Philip Anderson, Chris Gambs, Alison Ivin and Jonathan Geen have joined.
Managing partner Howard Palser considers motivation through ownership more important than the inevitable drop in profit share. Of the originally-Welsh firm, 65-70 per cent is insurance-related, predominantly defendant insurance litigation, and 30 per cent is commercial – corporate finance, commercial property, employment and commercial litigation. The head office in Cardiff handles all the commercial work and some personal injury (PI). The other three offices in Southampton, Birmingham and Bristol are dedicated to PI. Turnover is expected to be around £8m this year. Not bad coming from a standing start of £350,000 in its first year.
The firm's strategy is to consolidate its position outside of Wales and to convince non-Welsh companies that they should choose it. Bristol, in particular, has opened up the national market.
“We've been trying to get away from the dominance of the insurance side for 10 years – and not succeeding, I'm pleased to say,” says Palser. “With all the panel cutbacks, the volume coming in from the insurers that we act for is increasing all the time.”
The commercial department is also growing steadily. Transactions handled by the corporate finance team during the past 18 months total £212.78m.
Founded in June 1992 with just two partners, the firm now has 17 partners and a total of 72 fee-earners. Palser says: “The growth of the firm has been extraordinary. We opened an office in Swansea in 1994, one in Bristol in 1995, and merged with Grossman Hermer Seligman in the same year. In 1999 we took over CA Norris in Southampton and opened an office in Birmingham.” The Swansea office was closed last year, coinciding with the former managing partner Jane Garland-Thomas becoming a full-time district judge. All other Swansea fee-earners were relocated to Cardiff.
Palser says: “We're not monolithic. The versatility of a small number of equity partners enables us to react very quickly to changing situations. For example, when Jane Garland-Thomas came to see me in 1994, she came in as a client at nine o'clock and left as a partner at four.”
Similarly, the takeover of CA Norris took just one hour. It remains to be seen how far the now doubled decision-making unit is affected.
“We've just completed the largest acquisition in pre-let in Cardiff for the past 20 years and I believe it was the largest that Lloyds TSB has done outside London,” says Palser. “We've also got a breach of contract action for about 60 employees of [automotive parts manufacturer] TRW, reputed to be worth around £18m. We're expecting a hearing before the Employment Appeal Tribunal shortly.”
The firm is still on the AXA and Zurich panels. It also acts for Green Flag and Admiral, although it has lost its connection with Norwich Union. Other clients include Associated British Ports, Road Chef, Dyson and Iotron Industries Canada.