Lincoln’s Inn firm Rooks Rider sees flexibility as key to its growth strategy

Earlier this year, London firm Rooks Rider lost company commercial partner Kier Gordon to Charles Russell (The Lawyer, 7 January). The recruitment and retention of high-quality lawyers has always been the greatest challenge for the firm as it attempts to compete with its larger London rivals. Salary is the obvious issue, with newly-qualifieds currently on £33,000.

In February 2000, Janet Tresman from Hamlins was appointed head of family law, replacing the previous partner who had also left for Charles Russell. Tresman was with the firm for less than a year. Emma Morris replaced her in July 2001 from Wedlake Bell, which no longer practises matrimonial law. Other new partners are James John, who joined in February 2002 from Harbottle & Lewis, and Scott Farmsworth, who also joined last summer from the now dissolved Rosling Partnership.

The firm’s plan to double within five years, which was set 18 months ago, has been toned down due to the current economic climate. Property and litigation are now expected to grow more than company commercial.

Managing partner Clare Foinette says: “We recognise we need to increase our strength in depth, but would prefer to grow organically. We need to make greater use of IT and are currently installing digital dictation. We’re also looking at providing flexible working arrangements. It’s the way of the future and is a way firms like ourselves can score when perhaps the larger firms can’t organise themselves to be flexible.” Foinette still needs to assess productivity levels.

The firm is the product of a 1977 merger between Rooks & Co and Rider. It took over small two-partner firm Taco Van Tijn in 1998, adding one partner and one consultant. There are now 14 partners, 30 fee-earners and five trainees, generating a turnover of £5.5m. It is expected to rise to around £6m this year.

“We do a lot of tax work,” says Foinette. “The offshore tax planning and business tax side is part of our company commercial department. It was partners in that particular field that started the advice in the late 1960s. When rates of tax became absolutely penal, a lot of our best clients decided they were going to get out of the country. They were mainly clients who were involved in businesses, so the skills for dealing with the offshore side developed out of the company commercial work.”

Farmsworth brought client HIT Entertainments with him, most famous for Bob the Builder and Barney. Unauthorised road shows featuring the characters in Northern and Southern Ireland required a swift response from the firm, and injunctions were issued within 24 hours for the second event.

“We tend to deal with private company sales and acquisitions, and that area’s been quite quiet recently,” she says.

Foinette acted for Airways Charitable Trust in a £12m investment property portfolio, while other clients include Fairfield Enterprises, now taken over by German company Bobst Group – although Rooks Rider was regarded as too small to be involved in those takeover negotiations.