Law firms rake it in on the investment market

Law firms are grabbing a bigger chunk of the investment management market with funds under management increasing by 30 per cent last year.

Members of the Association of Solicitor Investment Managers (Asim) increased funds from £1.167bn just over a year ago to £1.599bn at the end of 1996.

Scottish firm Murray Beith Murray topped the list with £200m under management – up £20m from last year.

Thesis (owned by the partners of Thomas Eggar Verrall Bowles) came second, with funds of £179m – an increase of £21m.

Tunbridge Wells firm Cripps Harries Hall is in third place with £122m and Scottish firm Shepherd & Wedderburn is fourth with £121m.

Two new firms entered the investment fray at the end of 1996, bringing the total to six setting up departments last year. They were Cambridge firm Hewitson Becke & Shaw and Kettering-based Toller Hales & Collcutt.

Earlier in the year, Lawrence Graham set up an investment department, as did Edinburgh firm Gillespie Macandrew, Broadstairs firm Walmsley & Barnes and Brighton firm Griffith Smith.

Several firms have doubled or trebled their funds under management. Ipswich firm Birketts jumped from £10m to £20m in the past year, while Torquay practice Hooper &

Wollen increased its funds under investment from £5m to £14m and Taunton-based Clarke Willmott & Clarke went from £4m to £12m.

Meanwhile, Osborne Clarke, which is in the process of winding down investment business, dropped from £25m under management to £16m when the figures were recorded in September. Osborne Morris & Morgan, which had £7m in management, also withdrew from the market last year.

Asim director Richard Larner, head of the investment department at Birketts, said more people were "entrusting their portfolios to solicitors".

"Often there is a pre-existing relationship between solicitor and client, which means the solicitor is ideally placed to understand the client's wishes and objectives," he said.

"Clients appreciate getting all the professional advice they need under one roof."

Larner added that his firm was recruiting for an assistant fund manager, bringing the number of fund managers to three.

Bircham & Co has taken a further £3.5m since the ASIM survey. Its head of investment funds, Christopher Jones-Warner, said the market was improving "because the idea behind solicitors managing investment funds, the marriage between fund management and a solicitor's private client practice actually works and is a very easy idea to sell to clients".

He said the firm was particularly involved at the moment in tax-related work, ensuring that clients were using their allowances, particularly in a year which may see a change of government.

"Longer term, things are looking good, whatever the politicians say," Jones-Warner.

"It's unlikely that interest rates will rise, so the government bond market looks good. It all looks good for long-term equity investors."