Rise of the Specialist Law Firm

Rise of the Specialist Law Firm

The combination of advancing technology and seismic shifts in the legal market has seen the growth of niche law firms across the legal sector, including here in the North East.

As predicted, the 2011 Legal Services Act has seen a shakeup of the industry with law firms consolidating through mergers, acquisitions and some firms ceasing to operate. Thriving in this competitive arena are “boutique” firms specialising in specific sectors or areas of law. These “best in class” firms are becoming so successful that, as well as servicing a burgeoning Northern client base, some are attracting high-level work from London and the rest of the UK.

At the forefront of this dynamic model are a broad network of specialist North East based firms: niche commercial litigation practice, TT Law; employment specialists, Collingwood Legal; commercial pensions experts, Neon Legal and Savage Silk, offering an innovative combination of both legal and financial advice. The exponential growth of these firms highlights the client driven demand for expertise and complete confidence in their professional advisers.

A recent legal sector survey affirms the model. The 2017 Bellwether report published in October by Lexis Nexis, entitled “The Race to Evolve”, analyses how lawyers are dealing with industry challenges and meeting the needs of their increasingly tech savvy and informed clients. When deciding whether to refer work that was outside of their field of expertise, or to keep in house and “dabble”, 95% of respondent lawyers confirmed that they would refer onto a specialist firm.

The findings resonated with Paul McGowan, founder of Collingwood Legal, “the niche practice model provides us with fantastic opportunities and ability to move quickly to embrace change. Who knows what challenges the future will present but I would like to think that our lean business model will continue to keep us ahead and able to make the most of opportunities as they arise.” Commenting on another successful year, “2017 has been fantastic for Collingwood, winning new clients and maintaining Legal 500 Top Tier for employment law, as well as recognition in Chambers UK 2018. The highlight was winning Firm of the Year at the Northern Law Awards.” 

Paul attributes this success to “being nimble and fleet footed, getting the best results for our clients and offering the best value.  Focusing on one area of the law and doing it really well is key. Our clients know that they are dealing with true experts and that they can trust our judgment.  This also helps deliver value for our clients by providing a quick turnaround when advice is needed.” This approach has helped attract clients such as Wandisco, Blackpool and The Fylde College, NCFE, Kaefer C & D., Sage Gateshead, Danieli UK Holding, York St John University and Atom Bank.

Commenting on the relationship with other specialist firms in the region, Paul added, “It is great to have a network of likeminded firms with other areas of legal specialism.  Our clients sometimes have legal needs outside employment law. It is reassuring to have a trusted network we can rely on, knowing that our clients will be looked after.”

Also performing strongly is specialist litigation firm, TT Law. Recognised in the 2017 Legal 500, Neville Takiar’s team is described as a “strong and reliable” litigation boutique that “punches above its weight in the region’” with “a service level that is nothing short of excellent”.  Its corporate clients include the Cairn Hotel Group, END, Zara Commercial, Union Property, Ringtons, JATO Dynamics and UK Land. 

It also acts for a number of the region’s most wealthy and influential figures and was recently appointed to a national insolvency and recoveries panel. Reflecting on another successful year, Neville said “we’re now in our fifth year and we’ve grown 33% in the past 12 months alone.  Finding quality people to help us grow sustainably is our biggest challenge.  We’re regularly winning high quality new work, typically through existing client recommendations, referrals from other firms and being asked to represent those we had previously acted against.”  Not that the firm is chasing growth.  As Neville added, “being relatively small is one of our greatest strengths, we’re able to ensure a much higher concentration of quality. There is nothing more important than that in a law firm.”

Also embracing the niche practice model, Tushar Bhate head of Legal 500 Top Tier “Pensions boutique” Neon Legal, noted for “an incredibly skilled” team that “inspires confidence in its clients”, commented “as we practice only in the area of our expertise, we are able to deliver a better service and offer greater value to our clients.” Again, reflecting on continued growth, Tushar added, “the firm has had an excellent year and we’ve picked up lots of new instructions and clients from across the UK. We appointed two trainee solicitors as part of our expansion plans”.

Additional highlights for Neon include recognition in Chambers UK 2018, working with the pension scheme trustees of a FTSE 100 company, advising a conglomerate of sponsoring employers in respect of a multi-billion pound industry pension scheme and receiving a host of new appointments by clients needing specialist public sector pensions advice.

Headed by Simon Priestley, Savage Silk has recently relocated to Gosforth to house its growing team. Savage Silk offers pragmatic legal and financial services and solutions to a diverse client base, ranging from entrepreneurs eager to build their businesses, through to mid-stage entrepreneurs and high net worth individuals. Made up of a potent combination of senior solicitors and financial advisors, regulated by both the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Financial Conduct Authority, Simon's team boasts an enviable portfolio of high profile clients.

The team have been involved in the sale of Hexham Racecourse, the purchase of one of the largest industrial warehouses in the region and a number of corporate transactions in the healthcare sector. On the funding side the team have advised in relation to funding for a client needing short-term finance for a growth opportunity into China, and a   multimillion pound refinance for a new client in the retail sector.

To Simon, working within a network of similar focused firms brings “the agility to act quickly and ensures that clients receive value. Each firm works to its strengths, ensuring quality of advice, value to clients, as well as access to a trusted circle of advisors that always perform.”

To celebrate this collaborative approach, the firms recently held a joint dinner reception at the Baltic in Gateshead. Simon said of the evening “It was encouraging to sit alongside similar like-minded firms and see each firm thriving in their areas of expertise.” Paul added “there was a great energy on the evening and it is fantastic to see other niche practices doing so well.  The thing that most struck me was that all the firms attending have brought on young lawyers too and that niche firms have quickly become well established in the broader legal market.” Tushar welcomed the “great opportunity to network and share ideas with other niche practices.” Neville concluded “Given the strength of the niche firm model, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if we continued to see the region’s best lawyers gravitate towards it over time”.