Birmingham and the West Midlands is seeing an increase in the number of solicitors deciding to set up as sole practitioners in a specialist area.
Among 1,300 firms in the region, there are now around 100 sole practices.
Some of these are practices with a sole principal and assistants, but many are individual lawyers working on their own in their specialist field. John Hughes, the reigning Sole Practitioner of the Year in the Birmingham Law Society Awards, suggests there are two reasons for this.
One is that the emergence of very large firms following mergers sometimes leaves individuals becoming smaller pegs in the new organisation and looking for greater fulfilment elsewhere.
The other reason is a growing number of people wanting to deal with small practices, where they can get a more personal and friendly service, and often more competitive rates.
While there will always be the high-street solicitors providing general services such as conveyancing, wills and family matters, an increasing number of practitioners in more specialist areas of law are setting up on their own.
"The days of the retained family solicitor who did everything are long gone. Nowadays, public expectation is for solicitors to have in-depth knowledge and practical experience of the areas in which they advise," said Mr Hughes.
With a background of 20 years in senior legal positions in local authorities and then ten years as a solicitor in a national law firm, he decided to set up his own specialist planning practice and in 2000 opened a city-centre office with just himself and a computer.
Five years on, his list has gone from three original clients to more than 300 and he now has three solicitors, plus other office staff, working with him to meet a growing workload across the UK.
"Businesses and individuals need the best advice they can get when they come up against public authorities," said Mr Hughes.
"We draw on many years of experience in both the public and private sectors to provide practical assistance in all aspects of town and country planning, environmental, and other areas of law relating to the use and development of land."
The practice successfully challenged a decision of the Secretary of State in the High Court recently, advised a local village threatened by Birmingham Airport expansion proposals, and represented clients affected by compulsory purchase proposals in Birmingham Masshouse, Cape Hill, Smethwick, and City Wharf, Lichfield.
He has also become an expert on the breeding habits of cockroaches.
Not what you would expect to be at the forefront of a planning solicitor's essential toolkit! But it proved to be the turning point in a case he was defending and the secret weapon which destroyed the prosecution case.
Representing a rest home allegedly overrun with the nasties, the owners were adamant they were innocent, but the incriminating photographic evidence was hard to argue with.
Then there were the testimonies of three environmental health officers and a Social Services official, who had seen the creepy-crawlies and after the case was dismissed.