Total number of partners: 22
Total number of fee-earners: 76
Key clients: University of Central England, Royal Bank of Scotland, Co-operative Bank, Brinton’s
Key practice areas: Private client, business services, financial institutional
Number of offices: One
Birmingham-based firm Shakespeares was founded by a solicitor named William Shakespeare, along with one other partner, in 1856. It has grown steadily to now boast 76 fee-earners, of whom 22 are partners.
Senior partner Michael Hibbs admits that while the firm does not punch at the level of national firms with Birmingham offices, it is a leader of the tier below. “In football parlance, we’re top of the Championship,” he says.
Hibbs says that as a mid-range firm, “if you’re not going forwards, you’re going backwards”. Accordingly, the firm has ambitious plans for growth.
For example, since Hibbs’ promotion to senior partner in May last year, the firm has added five partners and aims to boost the team by a further two partners by May this year.
Financial services, in particular for banks and insurers, make up around 60 per cent of Shakespeares’ business, while employment and construction work comprise the bulk of the remainder.
Growing the financial services team is a priority this year and Hibbs confirms that Shakespeares is looking for lateral hires. However, he says the firm must boost the profile of its corporate team if it is to attract high-level recruits. This is because the firm has been out of the limelight locally in recent months, due to the amount of time spent on international projects, he explains.
The corporate practice does, however, have a number of notable clients, including the Royal Bank of Scotland, the Co-operative Bank and Italian insurer Generali.
Construction is another key growth area. Pitching itself as a mid-priced alternative to the premier-league firms, Shakespeares seeks to attract work that “should be done by lawyers, but that is often done by surveyors” due to prohibitive fee rates among more established rivals.
Hibbs adds that the construction practice group also pays dividends in the form of spin-off work such as litigation.
Key deals for the group in recent months have included securing a £160m loan from Deutsche Bank for Romania’s first PFI deal, and advising on both a £35m PFI deal with the Ministry of Defence and a £26m NHS trust scheme for Compass Group. Upcoming projects for 2006 include advising on a dry dock and desalination plant in the United Arab Emirates.
Hibbs claims Shakespeares is unusual among the large law firms in Birmingham because it continues to handle private client work. As well as extensive matrimonial and family instructions, the firm also acts for a number of millionaires via its association with a major lottery company.
Shakespeares also has a significant employment practice and sees itself as the UK’s “leading firm on compromise agreements”.
Hibbs continues to head the employment practice, although partner Helen Hughes is taking on more responsibility.