Category Archives: News

Local church becomes the first to have built in theatre

Ravenscourt Baptist Church in London will be the first in the country to have a built in theatre which will allow children from local schools to enjoy productions of Shakespeare.

For the last six months the hall at the back of the church has been under construction, but it will be ready to open to the public within the next couple of months.

Minister of the church, Darren Hirst says, “I just want to use what we do to enhance people’s lives, which I think is what a church ought to be there for really.  I got talking to some of the teachers from local schools and they were saying that there isn’t enough money in the budget to take the children on many trips and so we thought we would do something that relates to the school curriculum.”

As soon as the theatre is completed and actors have been auditioned, Pastor Hirst will pay to hire a number of coaches in order to ship the children to and from the schools.

“Our aim is to take a topic, like Shakespeare, which kids often find very old and boring to study, and bring it to life for them. I think if done well Shakespeare plays are the best in the world to watch and we hope to do them justice.”

Kelly Grant, whose son attends the nearby Hammersmith and Fulham Primary school said, “I think it is great what the church is doing. The children haven’t been able to go on many trips recently and so this will be a real treat for them. The fact they will be learning at the same time is also a plus.”

Ravenscourt Church will be the first church to offer Shakespearian theatre as a sideline, and who knows, if the idea is a success we might see William Shakespeare influencing many more churches up and down the country.


Leeds legal sector flourishes despite recession

Closed firms, redundancies, corporate downsizings and a lack of opportunities for young lawyers have created the impression that the Leeds law scene is in the doldrums. But despite over 20 law firms going to the wall in the last three years, the green shoots of recovery are beginning to emerge in the city. 

At least 23 law firms have closed up and down the country in the last three years, falling victim to the recession. However, this hasn’t deterred lawyers here in Yorkshire as three firms opened offices in Leeds last year and many more are expanding.

Law firms Gateley, WoodsWhur and Dickinson-Dees all recently opened offices in the city with John Marshall, Senior Director at Dickinson-Dees, acknowledging that it hosts a range of new challenges and opportunities.

“We have been reviewing our strategy to take the firm forward over the last two years and it became clear that in order to achieve our plans for expansion and growth, it was time to take the firm to Leeds which is the heart of the legal scene in Yorkshire.

By moving to one of the top financial cities in the country, we are positioning ourselves for further growth and expansion of our business.”

The firm is also positioning itself for easy accessibility as the geography and transport links makes Leeds a favourite amongst lawyers with Richard Marshall, Managing Director at Lupton Fawcett, acknowledging that the city is right in the middle of England and has good road and rail infrastructure to London, Scotland and many other places.

The location makes it easier for lawyers to offer a more direct, ‘hands on’ approach to clients as it is easier for them to travel up and down the country.

The relocation of Dickinson- Dees opens up further employment opportunities as it hopes to recruit new members of staff.  “We currently employ over 50 people in York and will have the capacity to almost double that in our new premises in Leeds.

Since the announcement of our move to Leeds, we have initiated a campaign to attract high-calibre lawyers to join our expanding team and we intend to increase the number of employees at a senior level.” says Marshall.

Well established firms, like Dickinson- Dees and Gateley, see relocating to Leeds as a key part of their expansion strategy as it boasts the biggest legal sector outside of London. Firms wanting to compete with the best in the business see moving here as an ambitious but vital step.

“This opening is an important phase in our development and follows a busy and successful year. Like many, we have found market conditions challenging but we have continued to maximise opportunities for growth.” says Michael Ward, Gateley senior partner.

Seeking new opportunities is also crucial for firms wanting to survive the impact of the Alternative Business Structure (ABS) which has changed the way in which legal services are delivered under The Legal Services act. The law- often referred to as Tesco Law- allows non-lawyer owned businesses, such as Co-op, to offer legal aid to customers, increasing competition.

This is impacting on the traditional high street law firms in Leeds who aren’t adapting to the new business model with Brook North, the oldest firm in Yorkshire, recently being forced to close its doors after 150 years.

Rodney Dalton, a lawyer at Brooke North, blames the closure on the firm’s business model. He said their approach of offering a bespoke service across different areas of law rather than a “one stop shop” for its clients actually had a negative effect.

Although the introduction of ABS is having a negative effect on some traditional high street firms, with supermarkets threatening to offer the same service at a competitive price, it fails to touch those that cater to a niche market.

Leading licensing lawyers, Andrew Woods and Paddy Whur, opened WoodsWhur solicitors at the start of October and Woods believes specialising in a specific area is the key to surviving the economic recession and threat from ABS.

“If I was giving advice to someone setting up a business, no matter what you are doing, I would say become extremely specialised and have a niche. If you are making a nut to a Rolls Royce that nobody else makes then they have to come to you, they have a great contract. We have a specialist type of legal service which we can offer through knowledge and the way we deal with clients. It is having that niche market that sets us apart.”

The smaller firms like WoodsWhur and FrontRow Legal (a specialist sports law firm) favour Leeds to any other city as it has the same professional reputation as London without the expensive price tag.

“You have to earn big fees just to justify your presence in London, it is a hard life down there” said Richard Cramer, managing director of FrontRow legal. “Being based in Leeds is more cost effective and means I can charge my clients better rates.”

Other Leeds based firms that have beaten the recession and continued to expand in 2011 are Gordons, Ward Hadaway, Neil Hudgell Solicitors, and Clarion; who have recruited more than 30 members of staff in the last twelve months.

“Although we and our clients have faced an extremely tough economic environment, the downturn has also presented some opportunities with businesses which are able to offer first rate levels of service more cost-effectively proving able to buck the trend,” said Clarion managing partner, Mark Burns.

The affordable business environment, highly skilled work force and excellent transport links make Leeds a breeding ground for law firms with Capsticks, WoodWhur, Gateley and Dickinson-Dees all opening up offices in 2011. As the legal sector begins to thrive again, it’s hard to believe that we are in the midst of an economic crisis.

Leeds Metropolitan Business Magazines

Here are some articles of mine that were published in the Leeds Metropolitan Business magazine.

I was researching and writing stories on the law sector in Leeds and had a two page spread in the magazine for my sports feature and a single page for my news story on a new apprenticeship scheme.

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To view the full magazine please see Leeds Met business magazine

Leeds law firm expands despite threat from ABS

At a time when many law firms are buckling under the pressure of changing legislation, local Leeds-based practice, Neil Hudgell Solicitors, have taken an optimistic approach and used the opportunity to expand their business.

The recent introduction of the Alternative Business Structure (ABS), which allows non-lawyer organisations to provide legal services for the first time, is already proving controversial as it also allows external investment and ownership in legal practices. As well as this, the Jackson Reforms are hitting firms hard with the Ministry of Justice planning an overhaul on ‘no win, no fee’ agreements in a bid to reduce high payouts to lawyers and prevent unnecessary litigation making it to the courts.

These legal cuts are said to affect those offering services in welfare benefits, clinical negligence, personal injury, debt, divorce and housing. “It’s a double whammy that is hitting our corners of the legal world and making many practitioners hot under the collar, anxious about the future and keen to throw in the towel and bolt to new pastures, but not me.” says Managing Director, Neil Hudgell.

The firm, which specialises in personal injury, has used its organisational and professional strength to buy out other practices to continue expanding. They most recently bought the personal injury and clinical negligence practices of fellow Hull law firm MMS Solicitors with staff and premises also being transferred in the deal.Chris Moore, a partner at MMS who is joining the clinical negligence team at Neil Hudgell Solicitors, said: “This move makes sense. It enables MMS to continue its other private client work while the former Clinical Negligence Department can merge knowledge and resources with Neil Hudgell Solicitors to form one consolidated practice providing a high quality service for our clients.”

Neil Hudgell Solicitors is thriving despite the current economic climate and threats from other businesses which Mr Hudgell puts down to constantly re-investing profit back in to staff, IT and better processes to ensure they keep improving.“Today we have no debt but we do have capital. That is why earlier this year we were able to launch, to acquire other practices outright and take on cases or caseloads from other personal injury lawyers”

As the practice has quick access to capital funds, the website was set up to lessen or take away the case load of lawyers or firms that want to leave the industry. All email enquiries are treated with the strictest confidence and after 7 days they will be made a provisional offer.

In 2011 Neil Hudgell Solicitors bought three other legal practices outright and there are more in the pipeline. From this it is no surprise that the firm has already grown by 50% in the last year, with no plans to stop there. Once it becomes an ABS, the firm plans to restructure to enable both lawyers and non-lawyer senior managers to become directors and shareholders, giving them extra incentive to grow the business.

“I am confident we will achieve our expansion aims and defy the doom-mongers who predict ABS will mean corporate players and equity investors swamping the market. I say the market is big enough and there will always be a place for a ‘niche’ firm.”

As for the Jackson reforms wanting to see an end to ‘no win, no fee’ claims, Hudgell believes that this won’t affect the most determined practices as  people are always going to need affordable, professional legal advice.

“My approach is pragmatic, uninfected by rumour and conjecture, and based on facts that are very unlikely to change: there will always be accidents, people will always need to claim compensation and I will always work my socks off to make sure my firm is the one they choose to help them.”

Law firms new apprentice scheme to rival university degree.

A Yorkshire law firm, with offices in Leeds and Bradford, has become the first to launch an apprenticeship scheme for College leavers; rivalling the traditional university training route.

Gordons has welcomed five people to undertake its annual apprenticeship scheme which aims to find and train budding lawyers without them having to attend university.The apprenticeships are the idea of Gordons Managing Partner Paul Ayre, who was inspired after watching BBC programme ‘Who Gets the Best Jobs?’ which looked at how the majority of the best jobs go to those from wealthy backgrounds.

Due to the recent rise in tuition fees the firm decided to launch the scheme in September, promising mentoring support, holiday days and an annual salary of £10,390 to bright 17-18 year olds who have achieved impressive A-level grades. The UK’s top 100 firm will also fund their fees to train as legal executives over a four year period, with the course fees alone representing an investment of over £32,500.

Karen Mills, Human Resources Manager at the firm, insists that the benefits outweigh the costs.“We are expanding our business and these people will grow with the firm. We are putting a lot of new procedures in place and by training with us they will adapt to the systems and already know what is expected of them”

All five apprentices have already started their on the job training at the firm, with three based at the Leeds office on Whitehall Road, and two in Bradford.  While there, they will combine working at Gordon’s with studying for the ILEX exams (Institute of Legal Executives) which will take four years of part time work, attending one evening class a week to qualify.

ILEX has recently been granted the accolade of a Royal Charter for its high standard of ethical conduct, efficiency and training. Once qualified, the apprentices will be able to call themselves ‘Chartered Legal Executives’ and will also be on an equal ranking with those who have taken the traditional university route.

“I think things are changing. The university route has always been the preferred route but other firms are now realising that there is merit in having on the job experience.  I think that will be looked upon favourably and certainly on equal merit to going to university.

Those who attend university incur the costs and then have to do a legal practice course which is another £9,000 and takes a lot of time out of actually working in a lawyer’s environment.  This scheme is an alternative route and means aspiring lawyers can join the firm, get their experience and earn a salary at the same time as developing a career” adds Mrs Mills.

The apprenticeship programme appears to be a growing trend with law firm Pinsent Masons also launching the scheme, paying school- leavers a yearly starting salary of £19,000. Current university students are concerned that in the current economic climate, where jobs are already difficult to come across, these in-house schemes are going to make it even harder.

Claire Goodman, a third year law student at Leeds Metropolitan University said, “ I am going to leave university with thousands of pounds worth of debt and struggle to find a job because they will be taken by people who have trained with the firms and know how they operate”.

Gordons insists that this is only an alternative route in to the law profession and that there is still a place for the traditional route. However, those who decide to take the traditional route aren’t guaranteed a job at the end of it.