In the first of a new series of features, Legal Life is looking at local firms and highlighting developments in that practice. This month, Legal Life looks at Bennetts, a firm based at Wrington near Bristol Airport.
Bennetts, Solicitors Attorneys & Notaries of Wrington, is a firm which has rather bucked the market trend and expanded over the past 12 months, not only in terms of turnover but also in terms of work being undertaken outside of Bristol.
Bennetts as the firm is commonly known, is a niche, boutique three partner commercial practice which operates from offices in Wrington, near Bristol and also from offices in Cardiff.
The three partners are Francis Montagu, Lee Hamer and Craig Smith. Together they have a very clear strategy about the future of their practice which combines a determination to hold strong to, and build upon, the firm’s long standing reputation and approach to client relations whilst also embracing and driving forward with new and innovating ways to the provision of legal services and the “solicitor / client” relationship.
Although Bennetts is a small practice, the firm frequently and routinely undertakes complex and high value transactions working with (or in the case of contentious matters, against) the largest regional, national and international firms. Whilst the firm undertakes the “typical” work undertaken by small / high street firms (such as conveyancing, commercial property, wills and probate), Bennetts boasts real and indisputable expertise in more specialised areas such as construction, employment, professional negligence, partnership and shareholder disputes, agriculture, contentious trust & probate and mergers and acquisitions.
Bennetts’ client connections and business links are world-wide and whilst much of Bennetts’ work comes from repeat instructions from its long-standing and loyal client base, equally a great deal of Bennetts’ work is referred from other professionals such as accountants, members of the Bar, Financial Advisers and indeed other Solicitors. Frequently large law firms will refer work to Bennetts where there is for example, a conflict of interests situation or where the work involved is complex but not cost effective for the large firm to undertake. Likewise small high street firms often refer work to Bennetts where it is outside of their expertise.
The partners are very proud of the firm’s reputation for “punching above its’ weight” and in being able to call upon experience and a reputation stretching back well over a century and this is demonstrated by the firm’s website when they say “we are discreet, proud of our reputation and good at what we do. We promise a personal service built on trust and a spirit of partnership with every one of our clients”.
If, however, you were under the impression that the partners’ traditional approach to their relationship with their clients as “trusted advisers” is indicative of an old-fashioned or stuffy practice, then you would be wrong. Bennetts has, for a number of years, been a progressive firm which prides itself on being at the cutting edge of legal practice, management methods and technology. Francis Montagu said “this firm was one of the first in the region, probably the country, many years ago, to introduce what are now “common” working methods such as digital dictation and active case management systems as well as video conference facilities. We will continue to invest in technology because that will ultimately benefit our clients and reduce costs”.
The firm restructured in September 2011 and the past 12 months has seen Bennetts expand its client base not just in Bristol but also in South Wales. Craig Smith who is a construction specialist, joined the firm as a partner in June 2010 from Welsh firm Hugh James having previously practiced at Eversheds and he has very quickly built a substantial and growing construction practice in Wales and the South West.
Craig and Lee have been the best of friends since their university days and have long talked about going into business together.
Of his move to Bennetts, Craig says “Lee has been a partner at Bennetts since 2007 having joined the firm in 2001. I have known about the firm and its potential for some time and I also knew that Lee was loyal to the firm, its’ employees and clients. When the opportunity came about for us to work together take forward a very well respected existing practice with Francis, it was an easy decision. I was able to add my construction expertise to a niche commercial practice and as the majority of my contacts are in South Wales, it gave us the opportunity to open a Cardiff office and develop the client base into South Wales for all areas of the firm.”
In the past 12 months Bennetts has seen the practice expand and grow, particularly in Cardiff, where in March 2012 the firm moved into larger premises in Llanishen Village, a suburb of Cardiff reminiscent of Clifton Village, and where the firm’s turnover in Wales has increased significantly.
Lee Hamer (a former Council member of Bristol Law Society) is excited by these developments and sees the expansion as a potential benefit for all of Bennetts’ clients: “The firm is and will remain a Bristol based law firm from which I have practised all my career and we will continue to serve our clients in and around Bristol, the Chew Valley and Weston-super-Mare as we have always done. But in reality this firm’s client base has stretched all over the country, indeed we have several clients overseas. The practice in Wales reinforces and strengthens our position as a commercial operator which in turn can only benefit our clients over this side of the bridge too, particularly if we can introduce certain of our “Bristol” clients and businesses to those in Cardiff and vice versa”
That said, the firm remains true to its roots and has no plans to expand very much more. As Lee points out: “we think we stand apart from the crowd because we are a small outfit with relatively low overheads and in turn, relatively low hourly rates for the work we do and so we successfully fill a void between the small high street firm and the large regional and national firms. If we were to grow too much more, we might lose our “usp”.”
More about Bennetts can be found at www.bennettlaw.co.uk