Regional law firm Alsters Kelley is on the acquisition trail after finding success in the commercial property market.
While the commercial property market has been tough for law firms, the Warwickshire solicitors have been focusing on contracts with the NHS.
The firm saw a 68 per cent increase in turnover relating to specialist health centre work in the last year, increasing the size of the commercial property department at the company.
Managing partner Catherine Wahlberg put the improvement down to a stronger focus on management skills at the company, something she said was lacking from many smaller regional firms.
Ms Wahlberg – one of the youngest female managing partners of a Legal 500 firm – gave up law practice completely to take charge of Alsters Kelley after deciding the firm needed a new direction.
She said: “I think that there’s a real need for managing partners to take business seriously. That’s already happening in the city firms, but not in the regions. There’s a great need for firms to invest in financial management.
“The business side of things here had completely lost focus and it was messed in terms of profitability and control and the basics of financial management.
“Getting decent management in place was key and that meant understanding fundamentally what we are doing as a business. Basically it’s just buying and selling time.”
The firm decided early on to reduce its reliance on conveyancing and personal injury because the sectors had become increasingly competitive, and would have relied a large amount of working capital to win contracts.
Instead the firm focused on property work with public customers like the NHS. The success in this area meant the firm increased the size of its real estate division from one fee earner to three.
It has also target commercial work, matrimonial work, private client work, and commercial and civil litigation as potential areas for growth. Ms Wahlberg said she wanted to see turnover grow by about £2m in the coming 24 months, from the current figure of about £6m.
Ms Wahlberg said there was plenty of scope for growth at regional firms, adding: “There is still a lot of business at the SME end. People are coming from big firms because the niche opportunity exists. Commercially, for clients there are advantages because we don’t have the big city overheads. And new technology has meant we can keep our costs down more easily.”
And she said the firm now has plans to hit the acquisition trail based on its success over the last year.
She said: “We are actively looking to acquire other practices. Over the last two years we have created a suitable platform. It’s an opportunity for us to grow our turnover, but it also gives other firms that come in the opportunity to have more business.
“It’s not been difficult for us to find funding for acquisitions, we have worked very closely with the bank over the last two years, and we have got the infrastructure. The kind of thing we are looking for is going to be other legal firms that slide in reasonably well with our own. We want to remain relatively close to our area, we don’t want to just acquire for the sake of acquiring.”
“It’s partly because values are down. Quite frankly in this market we have got to look at other options, so why not?”
Alsters Kelley is based in Warwickshire and has three branches in Coventry, Leamington and Nuneaton.