Holborn-based Maples Teesdale lost its three-partner private client team earlier this year to Lee & Pembertons (The Lawyer, 15 July). Ian Lane, Joan Rees and Sally Wilkins moved to the Victoria-based firm with consultant Michael Lang and three legal executives. With another partner becoming a consultant, this leaves just five fee-earning partners at the commercial property and construction firm.
Maples chief executive officer (CEO) Andrew Whittaker says: “The split is by agreement and has been prompted by what is the growing trend for the provision of private client legal services to be concentrated in specialised firms. Our difficulty, with our focus on property construction, was that we increasingly found that we were unable to provide a full range of private client services. In the medium-term the two areas – private client and commercial property and construction – didn't fit together particularly well.”
Despite the loss of its private client team, Maples has announced ambitious financial targets. It intends to grow its turnover by 50 per cent within the next three years and by the same rate again within five years. This growth will have to be tempered with caution if the firm is going to maintain its niche status. “We are going forward as a niche property and construction firm,” says Whittaker. “We have a good business model and there's strong personal belief in the firm's ethos. Everyone who works here has made a positive decision to work in a small firm environment.”
Last year's £3.8m turnover figure includes private client work. For the year ahead, the forecast is around £2.9m for the continuing business. With four partners in the commercial property department, this is where the bulk of the business will come from. Transactional commercial property work is drawing in work for construction, property litigation and company commercial. The pressure is on to maintain the flow of clients to sustain the business.
As of 1 September Andrew Whittaker, formerly known as managing partner, has adopted the title of CEO. He is a dedicated manager with full authority and has not handled any fee-earning for the past two years. In conjunction with this, targets are set to encourage each partner to win new business. In the past three years, the firm has brought in four or five new clients per year.
Chris Wilkinson is the latest partner to join the firm, which continues the trend of hiring well-known lawyers from Norton Rose. The first was Mark Bryan back in 1996. “Before Chris there was Declan Power in 1998. It's a tight team. Over the last six years we have got more and bigger deals in,” says Bryan. “The way I see it is that either you are big, or you are niche. The ones in between are the ones that might find it a little more difficult.”
The firm handles a lot of work for Royal & SunAlliance. The most recent deal was a forward funding of a £50m retail warehouse development in Tunbridge Wells. The deal was signed within two weeks.