UK Roundup: South West

Lorraine Cushnie on the month in the South West

Ashfords expands in Bristol
The newest entrant to the Bristol legal market is finally getting itself a permanent office after 18 months of doing business in the city. Ashfords has not picked its final destination yet, but the firm is set to move from its rather nondescript managed offices to somewhere permanent in the next few months.

Ashfords’ rapid expansion since it set up in the city has led to the move. Bristol managing partner Garry Mackay says the firm has been pleased, if surprised, by the level of work it has picked up in its first year and a half. “Since we’ve been here we’ve already completed several big deals and the number of partners in our office has quintupled in 12 months,” he says.

From a starting point of three lawyers, the office has now grown to 15, a figure Mackay expects to double in the next year.

Ashfords is, of course, one half of the former Bevan Ashford. After the division, Ashfords was left without a permanent base in the city. With offices scattered across the South West, it might seem unnecessary for the firm to go to the trouble and expense of opening a new office, but Mackay says that, to win work from Bristol clients, you need to have a Bristol base. “We’re firmly committed to the Bristol market,” he adds.

Ashfords’ Bristol presence offers IP, general company commercial work, corporate recovery and property expertise. The office is also looking to expand into banking once it finds itself a lawyer.

Despite the guarded nature of Bristol clients, Mackay and his team have managed to break into the mid-tier market. This breakthrough is thanks in part to the larger law firms in the region chasing bigger-ticket work. Firms such as Burges Salmon, Clarke Willmott and Osborne Clarke make no secret of looking to gain “better quality clients”, leaving a gap that Ashfords has so far been pleased to fill.

Steele takes lead at Stephens & Scown

Away from Bristol, Devon and Cornwall firm Stephens & Scown has got itself a new chief executive in the guise of the Andy Steele. Steele has joined the £13m-turnover firm from facilities management business Connaught and has been charged with bringing a greater business focus to The Lawyer Rising 50-ranked firm.

Steele says he was attracted to Stephens & Scown because it offers a new opportunity and the firm’s lawyers are keen to take on board new ideas. “My background is in construction, so to come into a different industry was a challenge. Stephens & Scown had the vision to see there’s more to running the partnership than just being a collection of lawyers,” he says.

Steele sees his role as bringing some business nous to the way the firm runs itself. “To take the firm to its next stage of growth, it needed someone with business skills. My job is to get lawyers to think more as a business,” he explains.

The success of non-lawyer chief executives running law firms is variable, with many seen as outsiders and therefore unable to be effective leaders. Steele is aware of the challenges, but thinks he will be able to overcome them.

He tells The Lawyer: “I’m very lucky. I have a positive team of colleagues on the management board and I’ve joined a firm with a very open culture. It will demand change, but so far it’s been good and people here are hungry for business ideas.”

Steele is not the only person on the move. As first revealed on www.the (1 February), Clarke Willmott’s conveyancing team moved to a new home in the form of Foot Anstey. The new homes team decided to part company with Clarke Willmott because of an increasing level of conflicts. The team advises the buyers of homes on new residential developments, but was often conflicted out of jobs because Clarke Willmott acts for 12 homebuilders.

Osborne Clarke bolstered its London private equity team with Addleshaw Goddard partner and former 3i in-house counsel Keir Barrie, as first reported on (16 January). Barrie joined the South West firm’s private equity team at the start of the year as an equity partner.

Meanwhile, TLT Solicitors also ramped up in London with the hire of banking litigation partner Charles Spragge. Spragge joined TLT from CMS Cameron McKenna.

High hopes for PEP and revenue hikes

The region’s firms have been gazing into their crystal balls and making predictions about future financial performance.

As first revealed on (25 November 2005), Osborne Clarke posted a 14 per cent increase to its half-year revenue after generating a turnover of £36.5m, up from £32m for the same period last year.

David Sedgwick, Clarke Willmott’s managing partner, predicts that the firm’s profit per equity partner (PEP) will break through the £250,000 barrier this financial year. He is predicting PEP to rocket 18 per cent to £254,000 and turnover to rise by 17 per cent to £39m by the end of the 2005-06 financial year.

Bevan Brittan chief executive Stuart Whitfield has set a target of increasing the firm’s PEP by more than 40 per cent by April 2007. As first reported by The Lawyer (21 November 2005), Whitfield wants PEP to reach £300,000 by the end of the 2006-07 financial year, a rise of 43 per cent on its 2004-05 PEP of £209,000.

Bevan Brittan has also set ambitious targets for turnover growth for the next three years. Fee income is expected to rise 15 per cent this financial year, 15 per cent in year two and 10 per cent in the third year. If the firm achieves its targets, it would achieve a turnover of £54.2m for the 2007-08 financial year.

Finally, Foot Anstey is set to jump up the rankings of The Lawyer Rising 50 if it reaches its predicted turnover target of £14m-£15m for this financial year. If the firm hits the top-end of that prediction, it would be a rise of more than 30 per cent on the 2004-05 revenue figure of £11.4m.

Managing partner Jane Lister also told The Lawyer (27 February) that the firm wants to increase its turnover to £22m during the next five years.