Posted by Darren Gower, head of marketing at Legal Futures Associate Eclipse Legal Systems 
Forster Dean Solicitors is – based on a ‘number of branches’ metric – the UK’s largest law firm. The practice has 29 offices across the north-west and midlands region, despite having only 100 staff.
As revealed last year on Legal Futures , in the last six years earnings have risen by 170% with headcount increasing by less than 10%. Such growth has led to Forster Dean being ranked a ‘Lawyer Top 200’ firm, with its CEO – Gregory Shields – listed in the ‘Lawyer Hot 100’ published this week.
Such growth doesn’t happen by accident, and this type of expansion doesn’t happen by throwing a handful of darts at a big map. So what is Forster Dean’s strategy and what makes it unique?
Crunching the numbers
The firm has essentially adopted a ‘supermarket’ or ‘retail’ approach – such strategies are largely unheard of in the professional services sector (although the creeping number of commercial investors and alternative business structures is slowly beginning to bring a more ‘transactional’ lingo to the market).
What does this ‘retail approach’ actually mean in practical terms?
- The decision to open a new branch (and where) is not taken lightly – no finger-in-the-air guesstimations here. Forster Dean takes the huge amounts of client data it already holds and analyses this for demographic and geographical trends. The data is stored in the firm’s practice management system (Eclipse’s Proclaim) and appropriate elements can be easily exported into the analytical tools of choice (Forster Dean uses a well-known location planning company).
- The analysis results give Forster Dean an indication of the ‘type’ of client that is most valuable, and the likely location that this ‘type’ can be found. So from this point, opportunities for new site locations can be compared with the ‘ideal’ clientbase and a decision taken on where new branches are sited.
- Each new Forster Dean branch has the same template in terms of personnel structure, branding, ‘shopfitting’, and the IT systems in place (each branch access a centralised, cloud-based Proclaim solution). Much the same as, say, Tesco or any other retailer would roll out new stores.
This ‘model’ means that Forster Dean has in its hands a scalable business that can be replicated and expanded rapidly and uniformly. The retail analogy continues in the language that Forster Dean uses throughout the organisation:
- Branches are in fact called ‘Stores’
- Clients are always referred to as ‘Customers’
- ‘Footfall’ is a key measurement for the practice when looking at new locations and the success of existing stores
It’s a very investable model, and the firm’s CEO, Greg Shields, makes no bones about the fact that he sees future external investment as very much part of his grander business plan.