Ambitious aspirations

UK-based law firm Anthony Collins Solicitors is regarded as a national practice even though it operates from one office. Tracey Davenport, Head of Marketing and Busi-ness Development, and Kate Granger, Marketing Communications Manager, tell Neasa MacErlean how they defy the basic rules of numbers.

What difference would it make to your business if your clients believed you set your course more by your heart than your finances? Anthony Collins Solicitors is one of the few firms that can honestly answer this question. It’s raison d’être, set at birth 45 years ago, is about “improving lives, communities and society”.

And clients seem to like the proposition. The 29-partner firm is posting record-breaking financial results — up 17 per cent on turnover to £19.5m in 2017/18. “We are different,” says Tracey Davenport. “We’re a specialist law firm working in sectors that don’t always offer the greatest commercial return. Our aim is to work with organisations to help them deliver and achieve their purpose: we’re not focused on making the most money.” This approach is appreciated, he says. “We are finding that a lot of clients look for legal firms that deliver on the social purpose. They tend to be more open-minded about firms like us — even though we are not the biggest in terms of turnover.”

So, although it is based in Birmingham (and about to open in Manchester), Anthony Collins Solicitors is a national practice. It has clients all over England and Wales, and is achieving national media coverage in specialisms such as Health and Social Care (through its work on ‘sleep-in’ pay and its national minimum wage implications for care staff). Public and third-sector organisations, along with private clients, are its main fields of operation — and have been since solicitor Anthony Collins, motivated by social conviction, hung the doorplate outside his office in 1973. This means the firm works in housing, education, local government, charities and social businesses (such as co-ops) as well as individual clients. Earlier this year, it won the ‘legal surgery’ tender to act as sole adviser to Co-operatives UK (the network of thousands of co-operative businesses across Britain). The firm’s Housing Finance team raised £1.2bn (in 19 separate funding projects) for housing association clients last year — enough to finance over 12,000 new homes, equal to the population of Stratford-upon-Avon.

In media terms, it has been punching above the weight of its 300-strong headcount. As Northamptonshire and other local authorities struggle to manage their money, commentators from Anthony Collins Solicitors have been quoted in the national trade press. Similarly, media from The Independent to the Daily Mirror have published the views of the firm’s healthcare specialists.

But if it sounds as if success comes without effort that is not the case. Davenport joined the firm a year ago (with Big 4, legal and housing association experience) and has been working on client relationships, business development and strategic issues. One of the innovations he has been overseeing is the publication — timed for December this year — of the firm’s first set of ‘social accounts’. The practice’s work in community-led housing will be one of the areas to feature in the publication. “The social accounts demonstrate that we walk the talk,” he says. “A lot of people come to us because of the business purpose we have.”

Davenport was also given the tasks of “rebalancing where revenues are coming from, across the sectors” and of making “a constant and concerted effort on branding and profiling”. These two aims are often entwined — as Kate Granger shows when she relates how the eight-person marketing team has been running its first campaign for the private client department.

Based on a mail out (of a snakes and ladders board game, showing the financial risks of everyday life) and email follow-ups, the programme has raised the group’s profile, she says. Website traffic was “really high” after the first communications were sent out, resulting in a “massive spike to those pages”.

The marketing group is also working to maximise the messaging benefits of the firm’s decision to open in Manchester. Taken to broaden its access to the legal recruitment market, the move is primarily about increasing headcount. “Knowing this was coming, we’ve been able to look much more nationally and strategically, from a marketing and business development viewpoint, at how we position the firm.” And for people who might not be so aware of what Anthony Collins Solicitors has already achieved, he says: “We are making it clear that we are a national player in the sectors where we work.”

And social media is one obvious way of spreading that reach nationally. Davenport and Granger are focused on upping the Twitter numerics, doubling the follower numbers to 1,600 within 12 months. “Some of the organisations in the sectors we work in are very small,” says Davenport. “Starting conversations with them through Twitter is a real driver. And then we can encourage them to come to our website.” The firm’s website was made more flexible and responsive in an overhaul in 2016, and adaptations continue to be made. A current goal is improving the SEO (search engine optimisation) results — especially in the firm’s education sector. Davenport adds: “We are trying to make the website a shop window and to do as much as it possibly can. That also includes using different forms of content such as video and webinars.”

Like all markets, these sectors are changing. Used to working within the procurement context of the public arena, Davenport expects to see that approach spread deeper: “A lot of clients who don’t have a procurement framework are looking for that much more now. They want accountability from the firms they are working with.”

The firm is confident that its revenues will break the £20m mark in 2018/19. That is not down to any one reason. Davenport lists some of the factors for growth: “It’s about getting the message right consistently, and about our internal comms, which are stronger. We’re cross-selling better and smarter about what we bid and what we don’t bid.”

But he thinks that the Manchester office — due to open in January — will be “transformational” for Anthony Collins Solicitors —in increasing its access to new blood and setting more ambitious aspirations. If the firm was seen as a national practice when it operated from one office, it could launch itself onto another plane when it has two.