Trethowans is ranked by The Lawyer magazine as the fastest-growing law firm in the UK with turnover of less than £24 million. Tim Wickham finds out from managing partner Chris Whiteley how growth continues with expansion into Bournemouth.
According to The Lawyer’s annual list UK 200: the Independents, last year Trethowans was one of only three firms in the ranking with turnover growth of 20% or more. Chris Whiteley said Trethowans is modest but proud of this accomplishment. Any modesty didn’t prevent the firm sharing the news via advertising billboards for the benefit of potential clients and rivals.
Trethowans’ revenue rose from £13.3 million in 2015/16 to £16.3m in 2016/17. Consistent performance is evident in an impressive 83% turnover growth rate over the last five years. The firm’s largest office is in Southampton, followed by Salisbury and Poole, with a smaller office in Winchester, and a base in London. Bournemouth will be the latest addition when it opens in March.
Currently, the firm has over 200 staff, including 35 partners, and Whiteley expects staff numbers will soon top 250. “We have a 20:20 vision of achieving annual turnover of £20m by 2020,” he said.
Whiteley described one of the firm’s main strengths as being able to offer clients a full range of legal services. “We specialise in more complicated legal areas, which provides us with profitable, sustainable work. We represent clients from around the country and some who a based abroad. We’ve built a reputation for dealing with difficult and challenging legal work and providing a first-class service,” he said.
“We balance litigation with non-litigation work, have always been financially prudent and don’t have an overdraft. We invest when we need to, but won’t do anything unless we can afford it. Our approach has delivered steady, structured growth that’s affordable.”
Major corporate clients include the Post Office, Jewson and Bacardi Martini. As well as profitable growth, Trethowans is proud of its culture. “We are very protective of our inclusive culture based on being open and honest with staff. We have to work hard at it and are determined not to lose our values as we grow,” said Whiteley.
Trethowans: No 45
A stalwart of the firm for 25 years, Whiteley’s early career after completing a law degree took him in an entirely different direction. He spent five years negotiating advertising deals for Anglia Television (purveyors of such TV classics as Sale of the Century). He also sits as a Deputy District Judge on the London circuit.
“I originally planned to use my law degree to be a detective and nearly joined the police,” he confided. “I guess detectives and lawyers have similar qualities of preparation, determination and persistence. One of the advantages of having worked in business before becoming a lawyer is being able to take a broader outlook, both in running the firm and seeing the world from a client’s perspective.”
Among Whiteley’s priorities during his tenure as the firm’s managing partner are making the Bournemouth office a success and increasing its presence in Winchester. He believes that having offices within an hour’s drive of each other helps Trethowans maintain its culture and encourages closer collaboration. “We are launching Bournemouth from a standing start, so we have a lot of work to do, particularly in developing our corporate client base there,” he said.
While recognising the “incredibly competitive” legal market in the region, Whiteley strongly believes that offering good service to clients shouldn’t be compromised. “There are probably too many lawyers around so you’ll always find ones willing to work for a lower fee. But will they do the job as well? There’s always a place for quality and service. If clients know that they will get a good, personal service they are usually happy that the legal work we are doing for them represents good value,” he said.