South West firm Stones was one of the first of The Lawyer’s UK 200 firms to take drastic action at the onset of the recession. The Exeter-headquartered firm scaled back its sprawling office network from six to just two in the autumn of 2008.

Paul Keeling
Paul Keeling

“We then sat down in the middle of 2009 and said ‘right, we’ve cut things, now how do we take the ­business forward’,” recalls Stones chief executive Paul Keeling.

What Keeling and his partners came up with

was a three-year business plan with limited liability ­conversion as a central plank, a milestone the firm achieved on the first day of this month.

“The structure of an LLP does give comfort to new entrants to the partnership,” says Keeling.

“It will also allow us to function in a much more corporate way in the future in relation to potential ideas such as outside investment or ABS.”

For now, Stones is focusing on capitalising on its track record in its core practice areas, including social housing, overseas travel-related matters ­(primarily insurance claims), private client and ­commercial property.

The 2008 downsizing saw Stones exit from the publicly funded criminal market, with its team ­heading off to form Trinity Advocates in Exeter in May 2009.

“Our year ends on 30 April and we think we’ll be down to around £6.2m to £6.5m in revenue,” says Keeling. “But net profit should be up by around 20 per cent. As a firm we’re now working much more efficiently.”

Keeling says Stones is not looking to reverse that growth trajectory via a merger, at least not in the immediate future. Neither is the firm looking to expand beyond Exeter and Okehampton.

“A lot of firms in Exeter have been finding it

quite tough,” Keeling adds. “But to some extent

we’ve found that our core areashave grown this year.”

Chief executive:Paul Keeling

Turnover: £7.3m

Number of partners:15

Number of equity partners:13

Number of lawyers:42

Number of fee-earners:61

Main practice areas:­Commercial property, private client, social housing, travel

Key clients: Arc Legal ­Assistance, Drew Construction Group, Fortis Services, Inter Group Claims Services, London & Westcountry Estates

Number of offices:Two

Locations: Exeter, ­Okehampton