One of the region’s oldest law firms celebrates its bicentennial in 2018. Paris Smith’s senior partner Nick Vaughan, and managing partner Peter Taylor, tell Tim Wickham success has always been about having the right clients and the right staff.
Victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 was probably still fresh in the mind of certified attorney Edward Bryant when he travelled from London to Southampton to set up the business that would become Paris Smith. The first office was at Lansdowne House in the city’s Bargate area. In perhaps an early sign that the firm would prosper, the property was shrewdly snapped up at auction for a bargain £38 from the Marquis of Lansdowne’s debt-laden son. Lansdowne House remained the firm’s home until 1997.
The names of Paris and Smith first appeared in the mid-1800s. The last Paris connection was Hampshire and England cricketer Cecil Paris, a former senior partner at the firm, who died in 1988. Despite receiving many offers over the years, Paris Smith has remained independent.
The firm’s heartland is in the central and southern region, while numbering large national household names among its clients. “Our relatively large size here enables us to develop close relationships with both small businesses and multinationals, as well as private clients,” said Peter Taylor. “We offer corporate services which equate well to those of a London practice, but at a fraction of the cost.”
The client split at Paris Smith is about 70% commercial and 30% private clients. The Corporate and Commercial Department at Paris Smith is made up of an established team of corporate lawyers. The team advise on the areas of ownership matters, trade related commercial advice including intellectual property advice and the purchases and sales of companies and businesses. Tax, trusts, estate planning and family matters are the main thrusts of the firm’s private client work, while its expertise in charities, education, agriculture and rural estates, banking and finance, sports and leisure span both client groups.
Paris Smith led the legal aspects on a number of landmark projects in the city, including Southampton Football Club’s move from the Dell to St Mary’s Stadium, and moving Hampshire County Cricket Club to the impressive Ageas Bowl, with its Hilton Hotel. The firm has a long relationship with Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre (one of the longest arts and business sponsorships in the country), which is now one of the UK’s most popular regional theatres. Members of the planning department were previously involved in the prestigious West Quay shopping centre development.
Paris Smith always chooses clients carefully. “We don’t seek to be all things to all people, and we’re not shy of walking away from an opportunity if it doesn’t seem to fit with us,” Taylor explained. “We are driven by our values and our desire to work with clients who look through the lens of business relationships in the same way as we do. Having something in common bodes well for more productive, rewarding and enjoyable relationships that work for both sides.”
The approach appears to pay dividends; the firm reports that 98% of its clients say they would recommend it. Underpinning its client relationships, community involvement, and staff development are the Paris Smith values of service, professionalism, integrity, respect, innovation and trust.
Strong community roots
The firm’s spirited approach is used to support the regional economy and benefits local communities. “It’s in our interests and those of the people who live in the region that we do what we can to make this a vibrant place to live and for businesses to be successful,” said Nick Vaughan.
Paris Smith has always been closely involved with a range of stakeholders, including local authorities, schools and universities, chambers of commerce, local enterprise partnerships and key employers. The firm’s recent support for local schemes include Hampshire Fare’s promotion of locally produced food and drink, and collaboration between Winchester School of Art and Basingstoke-based banknote maker De La Rue on a student project on the future of money.
A well-established charity forum in the region with more than 300 members was the brainchild of the firm. Along with other local professional service providers, Paris Smith offers charity and not-for-profit organisations free advice, training and support. “We encourage staff to volunteer, be trustees and school governors, and provide pro bono advice. It’s about giving back to the local community,” said Vaughan.
All about people
The firm has 225 employees, including 43 partners, based in Southampton and Winchester. It has taken on 50 new staff in the past 18 months, with further appointments planned. Paris Smith takes pride in having a very low staff turnover, with around half its partners coming through the ranks.
“If you develop people and provide them with career opportunities, then the rest of the business falls into place. Recruiting the right people with the right attitude, and with values and beliefs that match those of the firm is hugely important to us,” Taylor emphasised.
Two recently created positions aim to further enhance client relationships. “Our director of strategic partnerships and our commercial services specialist reinforce our view about seeing things from the client’s perspective, so we can be sure to understand their goals, aspirations and challenges, how we can best advise and support them to enable their success,” said Taylor.
Winchester opens new opportunities
In 2015, Paris Smith opened its first office outside Southampton. “It took us nearly 200 years to move 14 miles up the road,” Vaughan quipped. “Winchester is a different marketplace to Southampton and trying to serve it from there wouldn’t work.”
Around 36 of the firm’s staff work in Winchester, including nine partners, and it recently took on more office space as it expands its client base. As with its deep-rooted commitment to improving Southampton’s prosperity, Paris Smith is building close relationships with Winchester’s city council, cathedral, university, hospital and theatre. An annual dinner for business leaders sponsored by the firm is an increasingly popular networking event.
There’s plenty to be positive about for the central and south region’s economy, believes Taylor. “I think there is a real desire to buy local and support local businesses. Southampton port will continue to be a key feature, particularly as transport infrastructure improves for freight. Cruise liners are another massive opportunity for the local economy, especially if we can think about ways of encouraging passengers to stay in the city and enjoy what it has to offer,” he said.
The firm believes that local businesses will benefit when Crossrail 1 and Crossrail 2 are completed in the northern part of the region. It is also keeping a close eye on the expanding digital and aerospace sectors in the north of Hampshire.
Although the long-term outcome of Brexit is still unknown, the firm’s employment advisory experts are increasingly busy, particularly for agriculture and hospitality clients that employ large numbers of east Europeans. “Our immigration team is expanding as demand grows from employers and universities to find ways of making it easier for valued and committed foreign nationals to stay in the UK,” said Vaughan.
The firm’s workload is also ratcheting up as the clock ticks down on the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming into force on May 25. “We are providing a huge amount of training and support to businesses and charities across the region. We’re explaining what GDPR is about, how it can impact businesses, and the practical steps which they should be taking. A significant number of businesses have compliance with GDPR as a priority challenge for 2018,” said Taylor.
Paris Smith is preparing a spectacular summer ball for staff to thank them and celebrate its 200th anniversary. A special event for clients and local community groups will be another highlight during a year of celebration by the firm.
There’s a strong feeling at Paris Smith that the values guiding its first 200 years will set it in good stead for the next few centuries. If you consider the challenges and change experienced since 1818, you can understand the firm’s optimism. Vaughan said: “We see ourselves as custodians of the firm, aiming to leave it in better shape than when we joined, so it continues to be a successful part of the local community and economy.”
- The next issue of The Business Magazine will look at how Paris Smith supports Southampton FC.