Law firm Dutton Gregory is transforming. Managing partner Andrew Tilley gives Tim Wickham a progress update.
“Three years ago, if you asked our clients what they thought of Dutton Gregory, they’d probably talk about us being a good, solid practice, if a bit sleepy. We weren’t widely know in the region,” said Andrew Tilley. “I think we’ve changed significantly over the past couple of years.”
Tilley says there’s still a way to go, but he’s quietly confident about progress to date that aims to break from the mould of a typical regional law firm. “When I took over, my main aim was to give us a greater outward focus. But it’s a bit like changing the direction of an oil tanker – you turn the wheel then it takes a while for things to happen,” he said.
Connecting with clients
The approach Dutton Gregory is taking includes connecting more with the local business community and directly with clients, as well as embracing new technology. “Social media is not traditionally comfortable territory for law firms,” he admitted. “But you have to be out there, all the time, proving the value of what you do. You can’t expect clients to walk through the door any more, you have to work harder to attract them.”
The firm’s transformation has seen it gradually consolidate a network of small regional offices that had built up since it was set up in 1947. Today, Dutton Gregory is based in Eastleigh, Winchester, Poole and Bournemouth. The modern office building in Eastleigh offers two essentials for creating happy clients: easy access (close to the M3 and M27) and plenty of free parking.
The firm has 135 staff, including 15 partners. Projected annual turnover for 2017/18 is £7.6 million and the firm aims to achieve £10m turnover by 2019.
As well as serving private and commercial clients in the Solent area and along the south coast, Dutton Gregory has a strong national reputation for its work in the property industry. This includes commercial property (for which it has been recognised in the legal directories) and its expertise for landlord and tenant work. Tilley himself specialises in commercial litigation and insurance law. He began his career with City firm Cameron McKenna before deciding to move to the south with his young family. He joined Dutton Gregory in 1994 and became managing partner in 2015. He continues to work for a number of Lloyd’s of London syndicates.
“When I joined, we didn’t tend to specialise a great deal, and each partner typically covered different types of client work. We changed our structure by setting up specialist teams, covering pretty much every area of law, apart from criminal work,” Tilley explained.
Dutton Gregory: No 80
As it continues to expand, the firm acknowledges that attracting talent will be a challenge. “I moved south for lifestyle reasons and more lawyers, especially from London, are thinking the same way, which is good for us and the region’s economy,” said Tilley.
One solution to the recruitment challenge has seen the firm develop a training programme and establish well-defined career structures. “You find in some legal firms that junior lawyers tend to stay a couple of years then move on because there are a lack of promotion opportunities. We offer training contracts in-house, to staff who are already paralegals here. We know they fit in and they know we will find them opportunities,” said Tilley.
Tilley has a clear idea about where he wants to steer Dutton Gregory. “We will manage growth carefully to avoid becoming unfocused. We’ll continue to acquire smaller practices and have no appetite for being a small cog in a larger firm. We’d rather retain the Dutton Gregory identity and values,” he said.
A big question is how to differentiate yourself in a crowded market? “We’ve come a long way in the past three years but are still in a state of transition. We’re honest about where we are and are always exploring the best ways to differentiate our services. We’ll rely increasingly on technology to work smarter and we’ll continue making small improvements across the business to ensure that we provide a high-quality service to our clients.”