With offices in Chandler’s Ford, Winchester, Poole, Bournemouth and London, Dutton Gregory is an established 70-year-old law firm that conveniently and competently meets the needs of SME to mid-market companies and private individuals throughout Dorset and Hampshire, but also serves major corporate clients who operate nationwide. Journalist John Burbedge spoke to commercial property partner Denise Bull and partner Paul Reynolds, head of residential property.
Dutton Gregory’s talented and growing 130-strong full-service team (staffing of 200 is anticipated within five years) is already generating a fee income approaching £10 million.
The firm was the 2016 winner of Hampshire Law Society’s Large Law Firm of the Year award, and runner-up this year. It is also listed in this year’s The Legal 500 – ‘the service clients receive is generally excellent in terms of responsiveness, support, professionalism and expertise’ – with personal plaudits for property specialists Alan Sydney, Richard Brown and Denise Bull.
Allied to its high-quality standards and friendly, client-focused approach to problem-solving, Dutton Gregory prides itself on its reputation as one of the south’s leading commercially-orientated law firms; plus its significant legal service specialisms in various sectors, such as medical, private client, retail, childcare, insurance, care homes, and notably property, which creates over 30% of the firm’s workbook.
Reliable expertise in a changing property world
While Brexit concerns occupy the indecisive minds of many, Dutton Gregory’s property experts rate the levels and complexity of stamp duty land tax (SDLT) as the biggest current damper on the property market.
“We are still busy, but there’s been a noticeable slowdown in the number of residential transactions in the past quarter. There’s not enough stock, and stamp duty changes have deterred investment,” said Reynolds. The situation was similar in the commercial sector, Bull agreed.
In 2014, SDLT on property purchases was reformed by the Government with new staged thresholds (2% and upwards) starting at £125,000 for residential properties and £150,000 for non-residential. From April 2016,
anyone buying a second home or buy-to-let property paid an extra 3% above the ordinary stamp duty.
“The thing is that stamp duty today is a lot more complex than people think, and we are now routinely involved, along with tax experts,” said Reynolds.
With fresh permitted development rights and planning relaxations, more people are also now looking at residential/commercial conversions, noted Reynolds. “This (SDLT) is going be a huge area of litigation because of rising property values and the amounts of money involved.”
“The Government should simplify SDLT regulations and allow the market to find its own level. Also, without open EU borders and free-trade agreements, we’ll need to relax our taxation and show the UK as a great place to do business,” suggested Bull.
Extra complexity and bureaucracy, including the Government’s new anti-corruption (money laundering) regulations, imposed in June, is causing essential legal matters to take longer, admitted Reynolds and Bull, while stressing that Dutton Gregory operates efficiently and effectively
delivering added value and dependable client services.
While other factors have also brought change and delay to property transactions and developers’ decision-making, Dutton Gregory clients can expect pragmatic responses to their legal concerns, from knowledgeable, talented people who understand their businesses and their needs, says Bull.
And Brexit? Reynolds and Bull believe there will be relatively little short-term legislative change, since significant EU property and environmental regulations, such as energy performance ratings, are now broadly accepted.
Dutton Gregory is also pragmatically resolving its own current challenge – the pleasant problem of business growth. “There are lots of opportunities for growth in this area,” said Reynolds.
The firm opened its new Eastleigh offices in March, acquired Dorset firm Needhams Solicitors in July, and is currently in merger discussions with another local firm.
“We are also actively recruiting,” said Bull. “We’ve had three new recruits in the past month, and we have eight to nine people joining us over the next six weeks, including a new commercial property solicitor in December.”
“A lot of firms say they are open, friendly and supportive, but I passionately believe that Dutton Gregory achieves that more than most,” added Bull, in a comment that undoubtedly covers clients just as much as staff members.