Trying to talk about James Chapman & Co without mentioning Manchester United Football Club (MUFC) is like talking about Paul McCartney without mentioning The Beatles.
Its role as legal adviser to the world's richest football club is what defines the firm, whether it likes it or not. No matter how strong its reputation for insurance work, its growing general commercial practice or its burgeoning health and safety capability, it is senior partner Maurice Watkins' beaming face on the shoulder of David Beckham, Juan Sebastian Veron, Sir Alex Ferguson, or any other MUFC sporting millionaire, that remains the firm's most powerful image.
James Chapman claims to have increased turnover by 15 per cent last year, although no specific figures are available. It concentrates on two core practice areas: defendant insurance litigation (namely professional indemnity and personal injury) and commercial work, including the much-vaunted sports group.
The total headcount is just over 200 staff, of which 86 are fee-earners, including 35 partners, up from 28 just 18 months ago. Managing partner Elisabeth Taylor heads up the professional negligence department, while Watkins heads up the five-partner commercial group.
Given the profile of the sports unit, it is a surprise to many that the firm's insurance practice actually accounts for between 80 and 85 per cent of turnover, with clients including Axa, Zurich and the Solicitors' Indemnity Fund (SIF) – although with the Axa panel currently under review and SIF in run-off, it is a client list that could soon be changing.
The firm is already trying to develop new areas of insurance expertise, particularly in professional indemnity work for accountants and surveyors.
The commercial department advises several Premier League clubs, the FA Premier League itself, the FA, UEFA and FIFA. Outside football, partner Chris Murray is the disciplinary and dispute resolution commissioner of the Amateur Swimming Association, and the firm advises several Zurich Premiership rugby players and clubs.
Rising stars in the sports team include Mike Blood and Jason Smith, who both advised MUFC on its £302m sponsorship deal with Nike.
Earlier this year the team also advised England rugby star Jonny Wilkinson on a range of sponsorship deals that will make him one of the sport's highest earners.
Watkins still sees plenty of room for expansion of the practice. “A developing area is advising multinationals on their sponsorship programmes in rugby, football and golf,” he says. “It's an area I'm particularly keen to expand on and we're still looking to recruit high-quality staff.”
Watkins is also quick to defend the firm's regional base: “There's good airports all around the country we can use without having to traipse down to London,” he says. “We don't regard ourselves as a regional outfit. In certain areas we have not just a national but an international reputation, and what clients appreciate is that, with working from Manchester, we can offer very competitive fee rates.”