Fishburns has been through more changes in four years than most law firms go through in a lifetime. It was founded as Fishburn Boxer in 1971 as a professional indemnity specialist. In 1999 it merged with Cardiff-based firm Morgan Cole, becoming Fishburn Morgan Cole.
The partnership was restructured, with Fishburn Boxer’s 12 partners joining the Morgan Cole lockstep, and it moved out of its offices on the Strand to new offices at St Mary Axe. Just three years later, the merger was over and in November 2002, a newly independent and renamed Fishburns relaunched itself on the London insurance market.
Managing partner Antony Marsh says: “Fortunately, we had operated under the name Fishburn Morgan Cole even when part of Morgan Cole and most of our clients still referred to
us as Fishburns. We had the launch party, but we didn’t need to do too much to reestablish the brand as it never really went away.”
Of the firm’s work, 90 per cent is still professional indemnity-based, with particular strength on the construction side. Marsh claims that the firm acts for between 50 and 75 per cent of the key professional indemnity organisations.
Marsh says that the remaining 10 per cent of the work is split equally between insurance and reinsurance. Prior to the merger, the firm also had a small commercial capability to service its insurance clients, but the lead partner died last year and the rest of that practice remained with Morgan Cole after the split.
The reasoning behind the demerger was a desire to increase profits. The firm’s current turnover of approximately £6m is around the pre-merger level, but Marsh is confident that it can be improved. “The logic of demerging was that we didn’t need some of the central overheads that came with being part of a larger law firm, but the real benefits in terms of cost savings won’t feed through fully until next year. We’re happy with the progress so far,” he says.
As part of Morgan Cole, Fishburns was part of the Solicitors Indemnity Fund (SIF) panel. Since the split, it has lost its place (Morgan Cole retains a panel place), but it is a move that Marsh welcomes. “It’s enabled us to get solicitors professional indemnity work for the first time in the open market,” he says.
It also has a respected financial services professional indemnity practice and was involved in the Barlow Clowes and Roger Levitt financial scandals of the late 1980s and early 1990s. It is currently advising clients on pensions misselling, mortgage endowment policies and split capital trusts.
Current growth is focused on expanding the firm’s reputation across the full range of professional indemnity work and growing its European claims team. The team was acquired from Edward Lewis on that firm’s break-up and is currently headed by senior assistant Sarah-Jane Eaton, with Barry Lewis – formerly a partner at Edward Lewis – acting as a consultant.
Growth, however, will be purely organic. One failed merger is unfortunate. Two may be seen as careless. “You can never say never, but we aren’t looking to go down the merger route again,” says Marsh. “We gained a lot from the merger and a lot of us look back on it with fondness, but ultimately, we’d prefer to be independent.”
Senior partner: John Cayton
Managing partner: Antony Marsh
Total number of partners: 11
Total lawyers: 33 (excluding trainees, paralegals and legal executives)
Main practice areas: professional indemnity, insurance and reinsurance
Main clients: “Between 50 and 75 per cent of the key professional indemnity organisations”
Number of offices: one