North East firm Jacksons has managed to survive the insurance panel culls of the last three years and continues to act for the majority of the leading insurance companies.
Managing partner and head of litigation Richard Clarke admits: “It's been a rollercoaster ride. Insurers want to see a stable firm that's well managed, has good IT, good quality control and is willing to adapt. Different insurers have quite different approaches to how they deal with work, and although we have one insurance litigation department we have within it dedicated client teams.
“Generally speaking, people only work for one insurer. It's about getting the right people with the right skill levels in the right place.” Jacksons is newly appointed to the AXA Corporate Solutions panel.
Clarke believes the firm will need to broaden its range of services for continued growth. Target areas are professional indemnity, environmental law, planning, pensions, tax, intellectual property and IT. A merger would seem to be on the cards – the last publicised talks were with Crutes in August 1999. Clarke hopes to move into at least some of these target areas within three years.
The firm's turnover last year was £5.2m, with £6m projected for the year ahead. More than 50 per cent of income comes from insurance. A third office opened in Leeds in June 2000, which is now generating its own work, and Leeds partner Karen Irvine is the most recent lateral hire, joining from Palser Grossman in August 2001. The firm has 17 partners – nine equity, seven fixed share and one salaried. Four years ago there were 16 equity partners, but that figure has deliberately been reduced to protect the firm from strain. “It's been achieved by people leaving, but it makes for a stronger partnership,” says Clarke.
Employment law is the greatest growth area, up 35 per cent in 2000 and 23 per cent last year. Clients include the National Farmers' Union, Black & Decker, Electrolux, British Bakeries and Corus, with the firm still doing considerable work for the last following its downsizing exercise.
A landmark case, which concluded last summer, involved a claimant who sought damages in respect of vibration white finger. In this case, Teasdale v (1) DTI (2) British Shipbuilders and (3) GEC Marconi, Jacksons acted for British Shipbuilders and GEC Marconi on behalf of Iron Trades. The claim had been stayed under the direction of Mrs Justice Smith, as the Department of Trade and Industry was involved for the mining element of the claim. Jacksons applied to lift the stay to deal with limitation as a preliminary issue. It was successful and the defendants obtained an order for costs. Jacksons is currently involved with a project for Seaham Harbour Dock Company and Durham Port Holdings regarding urban regeneration.
“We have, I think, been at the forefront of development of IT for law firms,” says Clarke. “We're on the Axxia case management system and we're now reaping the rewards of that. We can extract all sorts of interesting information from it. I don't know where it's going to end up though – perhaps insurers will want to have direct access to case plans.”