“I think all medium-sized law firms face big challenges of how they respond to the market that we have,” says Clarks managing partner Michael Sippitt. “I think focused growth is possibly the only option that a medium-sized firm really has. You have to pick your territory and go for it.”
Sippitt has certainly done that, but at what cost? A new management strategy and a change in the Reading firm's objectives has seen major staff losses in the last year, with three partners and 12 lawyers leaving the firm.
“I introduced a concept called the 'balance score card', a mechanism for management,” says Sippitt. “It involves the setting down of goals and measures across a range of important management issues, such as client service and marketing, finances, management contribution, learning and development.” The team leaders are responsible for drawing up appropriate goals and measuring the success rate of achieving them, and so adopt the responsibility for managing the business.
Turnover, however, is up from £4m in 1997 to a figure expected to be more than £7m for the year ending July 2001. And the firm is recruiting. Simon Thorne joined as a partner from his post as head of legal at waste management specialist Sita (The Lawyer, 23 July), while environmental law specialist Karyn Trowbridge, a senior solicitor at Blue Circle Industries, is due to start in the new year.
Sippitt argues that consolidation, rather than further turnover growth, was the objective for the year. “I'm very pleased that we've held our turnover at slightly above last year's figure, notwithstanding the loss of three partners. Profitability is very close to last year's anyway,” he says.
The employment department at least has not suffered, with clients such as News International helping to increase fee income by 375 per cent over the last four years. Sippitt is a member of the Confederation of British Industry's (CBI) National Employment Relations Panel. For the last two years, the CBI has requested a Clarks associate to advise at the International Labour Organisation Conference in Geneva. BMW (GB) is another client; the firm has advised the company for more than 20 years in employment, litigation and intellectual property.
“The lower overhead base of a regional firm within easy reach of London is a very attractive foundation for London work,” says Sippitt.
Clarks is also a founder member of TAGLaw, with membership currently at 70 firms. The hope is to increase to 140 international firms over the next two years. “Despite it only being a couple of years old, I don't know where we'd be without it, because it's such an enormous help to us as a resource,” says Sippitt.
Boodle Hatfield and Blake Lapthorn are the other UK members.