Exeter law firm brings in client as external investor

Neal Bertram (l) with Andy Fairbanks

A commercial law firm in Exeter is set for significant expansion after a local entrepreneur took a minority stake and became a director – as well as being added to its name.

Bertram Fairbanks has become an alternative business structure after solicitor Neal Bertram teamed up with Andy Fairbanks.

Mr Bertram set up what was Bertram Law in 2014 after working for a niche commercial firm which has since been acquired by Knights, and setting up the Exeter office of a regional firm.

He explained that Mr Fairbanks was a client who had become frustrated with the client service of London law firms and larger local firms. “They roll out the senior partners to bring in the work and pass it down to the associates. That’s fine, but if you ask them if they know what’s happening on the file, the partner won’t have a clue.”

Bertram Fairbanks offered a partner-led service and the solicitor said there was “a gap in the market in Exeter for this sort of approach and this sort of firm”.

He added: “We all have to deliver a service but we have to do it in the right way and we think others don’t do enough.”

The larger Exeter firms “are looking nationally and internationally and are ignoring the local market”, he went on. “A lot of the high-quality referrers are interested in what we’re doing and already sending us work.”

“The big firms in Exeter underestimate the quality of businesses in the south-west. They’re not having to work very hard to make their profits. Clients are telling us that they are using them because there is no alternative. We see ourselves as a genuine alternative.”

Mr Bertram said he had discussed scaling up the business with Mr Fairbanks and also the difficulties of being a sole principal.

Mr Fairbanks was able to use his other business interests to provide the support services – such as marketing, finance and HR – that would allow the firm to grow quickly.

This backing was far more important than the businessman’s financial investment, which could have been sourced from a bank, Mr Bertram said.

As a result, the firm has more than doubled in size this year and Mr Bertram hoped to double again by the end of the 2023-4 financial year to £2m.

double in size again in next 12-18 months. It offers commercial transactions, property and litigation advice.

To grow the team, Mr Bertram said the firm had “invested heavily” in trainees and paralegals, with four trainees and two paralegals among a staff of 15.

Mr Bertram said: “There’s a regular flow of good-quality work – it’s just about finding the people to service it. In the last two or three months since the downturn, I’ve certainly seen a change in the candidate market. There are more quality candidates available.”

The firm’s office has a champagne and spirits bar for clients who were passing and wanted to “pop in and have a drink” or at any time during the week for those wanting to celebrate a completion or the successful conclusion of a case.

Mr Bertram said: “It could be a life-changing event, such as selling a family business they have set up. Lawyers seem to get this wrong. People should be able to celebrate life-long achievements.”

Mr Fairbanks is chief executive of Progen Power, a company that provides temporary power for festivals, concerts and sporting events.

“I’ve dealt with many lawyers through my multiple businesses, and some can over-complicate matters, which in turn incurs unnecessary large bills,” he said.

“That’s not how it works at Bertram Fairbanks; the firm really listens to the client’s needs and acts appropriately in an efficient and reasonably priced manner.

“We don’t want to be a cliché firm of stuffy solicitors and are very approachable to clients, so we don’t wear jackets or ties. It’s much more relaxed whilst still remaining professional and we think Exeter is ready for something different.”

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