With a new leader at the helm, Veitch Penny is gunning for commercial growth

Exeter-based Veitch Penny has hired former Trethowans employment and licensing partner Peter Taylor as its new managing partner. Taylor took over the role on 1 June, when former managing partner Simon Young left to become chief executive at the Law Group.
Having run Taylor Thornback, his own firm, prior to its merger with Trethowans, Taylor is undaunted by his new position. “In some ways it's easier [than running my own firm] because we have specialist managers offering a lot more support,” he says. “I think they feel that I can bring a bit extra having been a player outside of Exeter and in a larger firm.”
Taylor has brought a variety of commercial clients with him, one of which is EuroChile, which wants to promote trade and development between Chile and the EU. Taylor was born in Central America and speaks fluent Spanish, so is able to target that market easily.
Despite 80 per cent of the two-office firm's £2.5m turnover coming from insurance defendant and claimant personal injury (PI) work, it does not see itself as niche. This may, however, be little more than clever marketing, with plans afoot to expand the commercial business, in particular employment. The combination of Taylor's employment background and the Meteorological Office relocating to Exeter in 2003/04 – creating 2,000 jobs – indicates that the firm may be well placed to do just that.
The firm acts for 24 national insurers including Zurich, Provident, Hill House Hammond, AXA and motoring organisations such as the RAC. Recent significant cases include the conjoined appeals in Barber v Somerset County Council, Hatton v Sutherland, Jones v Sandwell and Bishop v Baker. Three out of the four test cases, all appeals on behalf of the defendant, succeeded. The February ruling in the Court of Appeal set out guidelines for courts dealing with negligence claims against employers in circumstances where claimants were forced to stop work because of stress-induced psychiatric illness. This judgment could save liability insurers millions of pounds in claims. Application for leave to appeal to the House of Lords is pending.
Taylor's first-month vigour is clear and he happily fires off an array of statistics, including the firm's admittedly remarkable success rate in defendant PI cases. Of its cases, 80 per cent are settled within eight months and 33 per cent within three months. With PI cases that go to trial, it has a 90 per cent success rate compared with the Lord Chancellor's target of just 27 per cent.
Founded at the turn of the last century, Veitch Penny has seen its most dramatic increases in profitability in the past 15 years, following its relocation to larger premises in Exeter in 1985. By 1992 it had trebled its turnover and by 1994 it had moved to its current purpose-built offices. Growth is still a key part of the game plan and a merger is not out of the question.
Taylor talks about the challenges facing the practice: “Litigators have been at the centre of a lot of change and these changes have increased the pressure on firms to service clients more efficiently. Better team management practices and use of IT has been essential. Currently, we are talking to three major clients about the possibility of servicing their work electronically.”