Brief encounter: Keoghs

Keoghs has discovered the less traditional route to success

Is the partnership structure the best way to manage a firm? We all have knowledge of that “other practice” which has suffered as the result of overly competitive strategies and rivalries between partners. Liability may be vital, but do firms need to adopt the traditional structure if it hinders the development of what is, after all, a business? Keoghs has decided that it should not.
In January this year, Paul Smith was hired as chief executive officer, heading up a management team of eight. Few of those eight are lawyers.
Smith came from chemicals company Lea Ronal UK, where he held the same position. Along with the rest of the management team, he controls the direction of the firm and handles its day-to-day running. Each division – insurance, company commercial, insurance litigation, non-personal injury litigation, commercial litigation and fraud – has a team leader who assists in drawing up the business plans. Generally, these roles are filled by partners, and there is no managing partner. “We want our legal staff to be able to get on with what they're good at, which is law,” says marketing director Mike O'Donnell.
The firm was established in the late 1960s through a merger between George Keogh & Co and Thomas Ritson & Son, and in June 2000 it dropped the Ritsons name.
At Easter, in line with its new corporate identity, Keoghs moved its six small offices from across Bolton into one large (43,000sq ft) open-plan building. This houses the majority of the personnel, with 55 staff occupying the Coventry office.
Keoghs' history mirrors that of the insurance industry, with more than 80 per cent of its £16.5m turnover generated from that sector. It grew substantially in the 1990s, culminating in two new offices – Coventry and Southampton. It recently closed its Southampton office, citing the reduced demand for regional offices (The Lawyer, 3 September).

“We decided we didn't need the Southampton office. We had fee-earners where the quality of work was not sufficient to warrant the amount of money we were paying them”
Paul Smith, Keoghs

“We took the decision that we had to look at our cost base,” says O'Donnell. “The move from the old six offices inevitably threw up some duplication, so we asked for some voluntary redundancies here in Bolton. Around 25 people volunteered. We also decided that we didn't need the additional overhead of the Southampton office. We had a number of fee-earners where the quality of work was not sufficient to warrant the amount of money we were paying them.”
The firm is now staffed with 181 fee-earners, including 10 equity and 12 salaried partners.
Keoghs' latest development is its specialist claims unit, a team which provides insurers with fraud-spotting techniques and a 10-point guide for claims handlers. It will advise on whether to settle, challenge or bypass in a case of potential fraud. Keoghs intends to become part of the insurers' actual system, becoming, it hopes, indispensable.
The firm's insurance clients include Axa, CGNU, Endsleigh, Hill House Hammond, Zurich, Capita and Budget. Other clients include Warburtons the Bakers and Greater Manchester Waste.