The DX Firm of the Year has been building on its core strengths, writes Andrew Collier.
Being a niche player could, you might think, be something of a disadvantage. After all, you're up against all those frighteningly competent, well embedded, full-service law firms.
How can you possibly take them on when it comes to challenging for the coveted title of DX Firm of the Year?
Well, that's exactly what's happened this time around. It wouldn't quite be accurate to describe Thompsons Scotland, Davidson Chalmers and Simpsons and Marwick as niche players, but they all know their sectors and play to their strengths.
All three firms were the finalists battling for this, the ultimate prize in the Scott + Co Legal Awards 2011. All are formidably competent, but at the end of the day, the winner was Thompsons Scotland.
Founded 32 years ago, Thompsons operates in a very focused sector of the Scottish legal marketplace. It now has offices in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen and offers a personal injury service for clients, as well as taking employment cases for trade unions. It also campaigns for health & safety conditions.
The judges picked the firm for the prize because of its strong commitment to staff development and its innovation in creating new revenue streams. Its submission also contained some powerfully positive testimonials from existing clients.
The panel of judges said in their formal assessment that Thompsons Scotland "were forward thinking and engaged all staff", adding: "Their testiminials were strong and their submission detailed how they had successfully managed change."
The firm started back in 1979 in Edinburgh with just two partners and three support staff. It now has an additional presence in Glasgow and Aberdeen, 13 partners, 60 fee earners and 150 staff. The firm grew out of an English partner company of the same name - which still exists and with which it is linked - with strong links to the trade union movement.
"We have always been a specialist company," explains partner Patrick McGuire. "We only act for victims - we don't act for employers, insurers or defenders."
The trade union sector is something of a declining market and five years ago, the firm carried out a review of its business. "We were at a crossroads. We felt we could either stick with our existing market and become a small niche firm, or we could expand into other areas," says McGuire. "We decided to play to our strenghts and expand and so went into broader personal injury work. It was a solid skill we already had and an area where our service was recognised as being first rate."
In order to actively expand its business, the firm stayed away from the traditional pyramid-shaped model of growth so often found in the legal profession, where the senior partners take the responsibility for business development. Instead, the company created its own separate Business Initiative Group outside this hierarchical, top-down structure. This innovation was another of the reasons the judges felt the firm deserved the top prize.
Thompsons Scotland continues to stick by its core values of believing in the individuals and the trade unions it represents, though it remains aware of its need to draw revenue from a broad base.
"At the moment, our employment law service is offered to trade unions only," McGuire adds "But we need to continue to grow and develop. We want to see if there's anything we can do with that service."
The firm has also consistently campaigned on the issue of health & safety, which it sees as strongly linking in to its other activities. "We've worked with a range of boadies over the years on this - with trade unions, the Scottish TUC, MSPs and groups such as Clydeside Action on Asbestos.
"It's an area we want to be engaged in. Every single case we have advanced for an individual is one which has had an impact on the health & safety environment and we are pleasedto have been part of that."
Frank Maguire, the firm's Senior Partner, admits getting through the recession of the last two years has been tough, but he now sees economic improvement coming along.
"We are still getting more of the market, expanding as a firm and looking around for people. We have trainees queuing up to join us and can pick the best," he says.