Couchman Harrington Associates

Couchmans' two partners have not let the IT slump bring them down

Sports, media and entertainment firm Couchman Harrington Associates (CHA) was launched in June 2001 by ex-Townleys partner Nic Couchman and assistant Dan Harrington.
Partners Couchman and Harrington left specialist sports practice Townleys before it merged with Hammonds, as they wanted the challenge of running their own niche firm. Couchman says: “[Townleys] was a fairly classical niche sports law practice and was pretty much the only one of its kind. When I joined there were only three or four of us, but by the time I left there were 40 or 50 people there.
“I wanted to go back to basics and to set up a specialist firm with more hands-on involvement with clients, and where I could keep things small and manageable.”
The two-partner firm, which focuses principally on commercial transactions and intellectual property (IP), has many high-profile clients operating in five industry sectors: sport, media, entertainment, technology and marketing.
Last September, the firm replaced Hammonds as adviser to Nationwide Building Society. CHA, which pitched for the Nationwide work alongside several City firms with sports law practices, now advises the building society in relation to all of its sponsorship and related television work, including advising on contracts and IP rights.
Townleys brought Nationwide along as a client when it merged with Hammonds. However, Nationwide, which sponsors the FA Cup, the Scottish and Welsh football teams and the Irish Cup, had sought a new firm because of a conflict of interest arising from Hammonds' prior relationship with the Football League, which is also sponsored by the building society.
CHA also advises Craig Johnston, the ex-Liverpool footballer who is now well known for inventing the Predator football boot. The firm is advising Johnston in relation to his new invention – a programme for measuring football skills.
Another long-term client is The Licensing Company (TLC), which represents brands such as Michelin, Cosmopolitan magazine, the South Park cartoon series, and the Lord of the Rings brand, among others.
Couchman says: “TLC is exactly the sort of niche entrepreneurial company that we've grown alongside.”
CHA mainly attracts new clients through personal relationships and by word of mouth. It also relies on some informal referral arrangements with other firms in the same field, which Couchman refuses to name. The firm is also able to compete on price. “Our fees are significantly less than multi-partner firms, and we can also be flexible with fees, which helps us to maintain long-term relationships with clients,” says Couchman.
Despite the slump in the new economy, CHA's turnover is still one of six figures and the firm is ahead of budget. Couchman says: “Notwithstanding the downturn in the IP and IT sectors, we've continued to grow.” He adds that, in the current economic climate, being niche is advantageous because sports, media and entertainment clients are in the doldrums right now and they need specialist advice at a reasonable cost.
Couchman does not have any particular objectives in respect of future growth. Last summer the firm hired three assistants, but it does not have any imminent plans to recruit any more lawyers. And although the firm has been approached by a number of potential merger partners, Couchman says he has “absolutely no plans to merge”