Fast-growing ABS expands again but this year’s focus is on profit

Holden Smith: James Smith (l) and David Bancroft

An alternative business structure which launched as a specialist conveyancing firm with three staff in March 2019 now has more than 100 in multiple practice areas as it opens a fifth office.

James Smith, director and co-founder of Holden Smith, said the firm would be focusing on profit in the coming year.

“You would need to be a brave man to take on a lot of growth this year,” he said. “This year is about making us as profitable as possible so we can grow in the years that follow. It’s a year of consolidation.”

Having launched in Huddersfield, Holden Smith has since opened four more offices in Yorkshire. Mr Smith said the firm was not afraid of expanding across the Pennines in the future, with Manchester on its radar.

He went on: “The demographic is what is important to us. We like urban areas with a lot happening, a lot of chimney pots, and a lack of legal representation. We like hubs in communities. You need to be involved in local communities and local networking.”

Holden Smith sponsors both Huddersfield Giants rugby league team and Huddersfield Town football club.

The ABS was co-founded by James Smith and Dave Bancroft – previously lawyer and non-lawyer partners respectively at Yorkshire firm Ison Harrison – and financial adviser Jamie Megson, who provides his services as a separate business.

Turnover in its first financial year was £500,000. It grew to £4.5m in 2021-22 and Mr Smith said it would hit £6.5m for this financial year.

“We’re continuing to attract new work. We try and be a bit different in everything we do. We’re not a stuffy law firm. Property has driven the firm forward and brought us into new areas, such as corporate, family and private client.”

He said the property market had “100% calmed down” since the Covid conveyancing boom, following the “Liz Truss debacle”.

However, there were “spikes at the end of last year” and the slump was “not as dramatic an anticipated”, with activity back up to pre-Covid levels.

However, he said Holden Smith aimed to become “less reliant on property”. At the moment, around 65% of the firm’s work was residential property, 20% commercial property which had become a “real growth area”, 10% litigation and 5% wills and probate.

Holden Smith’s fifth office, in Horsforth, just north of Leeds, is led by head of family law Leanne Pollard.

Mr Smith said the firm’s family department was “very busy, with a big spike in divorces in the last few months”.

Recruitment, which had been a “massive challenge” during Covid when the firm was growing so quickly, had been getting a bit easier.

He said the firm “did not promote” working from home, while not deterring those who wanted to do it.

Support staff had to be in the office full-time, because the firm was not big enough for them to work remotely, but lawyers could work remotely for up to four days a week if they wanted to.

“You get so much from being in the office, particularly if you’re a junior fee-earner and can see how experienced people deal with phone calls and complicated stuff. A bit of competition is also good.”

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