When Miles Preston left Radcliffes & Co with partners Siobhan Redhead and Julia Stanczyk to set up a family boutique firm, Miles Preston & Co, the trio took all their clients with them.
This meant that “we hit the ground running”, says Preston. Three months later, he estimates the firm has between 200 to 250 clients on the books. The rumour is that Preston has between 100 to 150 of these. All he will say, however, is that he has 40 to 50 cases at any one time allowing for the fact that “some are relatively quiet”.
After 25 years at Radcliffes, Preston's strike to go it alone was the result of a combination of factors. He says: “I'm 44 and felt that if I was going to set up my own firm, I'd better get on with it.”
Preston's new offices are discreetly located in law land, over the Bandicoots sweet shop on Fleet Street at the bottom of Chancery Lane. There is no plaque at street level to indicate the firm's presence and visitors are given a detailed set of instructions on how to get into the building.
The offices' location was important for the new firm as the partners wanted to be situated beside the courts and the inns, but did not want to be in the City.
On setting up the firm, the three partners lowered their charging rates. Preston's rate came down from u225 an hour to about u190, while Redhead and Stanczyk reduced theirs to u150 an hour. However, the firm, which does no legal aid work, discusses with clients if they can afford the rates and if not, sends them elsewhere. “You can tell if they can't afford it,” says Preston. “They hold back from telephoning us because they worry about it costing too much. We find it's better to be straightforward with the client.”
They offer an initial consultation lasting about one and a half hours where such issues are discussed. The client gets a bill for this session as “people don't value advice unless they are paying for it”.
Preston has doubts about the value of mediation for his clients. He says his market is relatively limited because it is the top 10 per cent of the market in financial terms.
Between 80 and 90 per cent of the firm's practice focuses on divorce, children and money while the other 10 per cent is more peripheral areas such as inheritance tax and premarital contracts. It also does a certain amount of child abduction work while 25 per cent of its work is international.
Setting up a niche practice has the disadvantage that lawyers no longer have the back-up which they were used to in a bigger firm and there is the temptation to expand. However, Preston says his firm “may just develop through doing strictly family law”, although he leaves open the possibility that they may develop other areas.