Hampshire firm Warner Goodman & Streat recently celebrated its 150th anniversary, making it one of the longest-established South Coast practices. But longevity is allied with expansionist and forward-thinking policies. Family-friendly policies are the norm, with staff working regularly from home. Profit, while clearly important, is not the sole motive for a Warner Goodman solicitor.
“We’re not driven purely by profit,” argues marketing partner Sarah Whitemore.
“One thing that distinguishes us from our competitors is the way that we put a friendly, down-to-earth approach first. This is something that applies to all relationships within the firm, with clients and among staff. It’s something we’re always looking at – how to get the balance between being friendly and approachable, and being in business, right. We’re looking at a new suite of family-friendly policies for the partners as part of this.”
Whitemore cites one solicitor who has been with the firm for 50 years as an example. “This typifies the kind of firm we are,” she says. “We have a healthy social club and fund to which staff contribute from their salaries, with various events organised throughout the year. We have loyal, long-serving staff.”
Expansion has, though, meant there are a few new faces on the block. “We now have as many staff in each individual office as we did across the board when I joined in 1992,” says Whitemore. The Southampton office is creaking at the seams, with staff costs increasing by £1m last year alone, as the firm finds itself midway through a drive to expand the commercial department.
South Coast motoring giant the Hendy Group was recently added to the commercial department’s portfolio of clients. Whitemore explains that the firm will provide a 24-hour employment helpline.
“In effect, we’ll become an extension of the Hendy Group’s human resources department, offering legal advice and help on all employment law issues,” she says.
The firm has deployed state-of-the-art IT systems and operates a request-based policy whereby staff can work from home. “We couldn’t function without IT, which has made everything so much more efficient and enables people to work from home,” says Whitemore. “One solicitor converted to being home-based after his wife had had a baby and she was returning to work at the NHS. There will be positions where working from home wouldn’t be appropriate, but we’re keen to be progressive and look at things like this.”
The firm is run by a management team, consisting of the managing partner and the heads of its five offices, as well as an accounts director. Marketing is seen as key to its continued success, hence the newly-created role for Whitemore and the appointment of PR firm LeepeckGreenfield to help with the commercial department’s ongoing expansion.
“We want to double the size of the commercial group by 2005,” says Whitemore. At the same time, there will be “a period of consolidation in areas where we’re traditionally very strong, such as private client”. Then again, as Whitemore says, “you can never really tell what’s going to happen in the next 12 months. But that’s the fun of it.”
|Warner Goodman & Streat|
|Executive||Marketing partner Sarah Whitemore|
|Total number of partners||18|
|Total number of lawyers||50|
|Main practice areas||Commercial, conveyancing, crime, family, financial services and probate|
|Key clients||Cleansing Service Group, Geoffrey Osborne, The Hendy Group|
|Number of offices||Five|
|Locations||Fareham, Park Gate, Portsmouth, Southampton and Waterlooville|