East Anglia: Birketts chief executive Jonathan Agar reflects on his first year at the helm

Birketts chief executive Jonathan Agar.

Birketts chief executive Jonathan Agar. - Credit: Archant

Jonathan Agar joined Ipswich-based law firm Birketts as chief executive in 2013 in its 150th anniversary year. Sarah Chambers caught up with him to get his thoughts after a year at the helm.

Do you have any expansion plans for the coming year?

The thrust of our focus for the year ahead is to innovate and move with the times, while expanding our services and remaining true to our roots. We have built a solid reputation within the region for undertaking quality work at competitive prices and we are now increasingly attracting clients that are based outside East Anglia who recognise the quality and value of our service.

In June we announced plans for a new headquarters on Princes Street in Ipswich having outgrown our existing premises and we expect to move to our new offices towards the end of 2016 / early 2017. We are also moving offices in Cambridge next year. Securing both sites is essential to executing the firm’s long-term growth plans and continuing to provide our clients with a first class service.

Where do you see future growth coming from?

As a full service, diversified legal business that offers a wide range of services we have come out of the UK’s period of economic uncertainty in a much stronger position than a number of our competitors. This now provides a fantastic platform for us to build upon.

We are fortunate to be based in a region that has a very diverse economy and some sectors – notably food and farming – have not been as vulnerable to the recession as others. Owner-managed businesses are a big feature of this region’s economy and the successful ones will always be looking at ways to expand and develop their businesses.

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We are already seeing much more positive commercial activity across all sectors in the region and we are continuing to attract new clients and new quality work.

To support this, we have made a number of key appointments and expanded our corporate, commercial property, shipping, agriculture, IP and tax teams in particular.

In the years ahead we anticipate further growth in these areas and as well as several other service and sector lines – particularly strategic land and planning advice, telecoms litigation, motor retail, family businesses, energy, charities and regulatory work.

What has been your focus during your first year? What do you see as your major successes?

We have made a conscious effort to think and act as one firm with four offices together in a more integrated way. This allows us to bring our scale and legal skills to maximum effect and we will continue to work on this theme. Additionally, we have invested heavily in IT and particularly in a new practice management system over the last 18 months to ensure that we improve our efficiency while maintaining our standards around client service.

We have also continued to focus on attracting and investing in first class lawyers in order to ensure that we can respond to the needs of our clients. These needs are forever changing and it is important that we remain at the forefront of trends in both the legal industry and the businesses we support. We remain an East Anglian firm that through the quality of its offering will be attractive to clients both locally and further afield.

How has the firm done financially in your first year at the helm?

Thanks to a huge team effort right across the firm we reported an 11.9% rise in turnover to £32.1million in the year to 31 May 2014. This was an increase from £28.65m a year ago. The results cap a strong period of growth for the firm, with turnover almost doubling over the past five years. During this same period our headcount has increased from 280 to over 450.

The 2013/14 financial year saw very positive performances in our corporate and property divisions, growing by 10% and 15% respectively, as well as strong contributions from our shipping and agriculture practices to name just two others. We are truly the sum of our parts, though, and all areas of the firm made valuable contributions to the overall performance.

The year ahead will focus on making those results even better, with continued exceptional client service, a focus on some key centres of excellence, better knowledge management, greater firmwide collaboration and getting the best from our IT systems.

Birketts has been involved in some major corporate and property deals, as well as private client work over the last 12 months. Notable highlights include advising on the £90m capital funding of Servest Group Limited, the sale of The Dental Directory, the redevelopment of Essex County Cricket Club’s ground, R3 Financial Services Group’s Share Sale to Police Mutual and being appointed to Suffolk Life’s panel.

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