Yorkshire Times
Voice of the North
Andrew Palmer
Business Editor
5:17 AM 12th December 2019

Business Spotlight: Keebles LLP

From left Matt Ainsworth, head of  Keebles’ corporate team, Paul Trudgill and Richard Smith, head of commercial property
From left Matt Ainsworth, head of Keebles’ corporate team, Paul Trudgill and Richard Smith, head of commercial property
In this new occasional feature – The Yorkshire Times goes behind successful Yorkshire companies that have a strong presence in the region.

Keebles LLP, one of Yorkshire’s largest law firms, with offices in Sheffield, Leeds and Doncaster, can trace its roots back to the mid-18th century.

Paul Trudgill
Paul Trudgill
Speaking to the Yorkshire Times, Senior Partner, Paul Trudgill gives us an insight into what makes the firm tick. We started by asking for a potted history of the firm.

The firm can trace its roots back to the mid-18th century but became recognised as Keeble Hawson in 1912 in Sheffield. Keeble Hawson prospered during the course of the 20th century and then merged with R C Moorehouse & Co to open an office in Leeds in 1998 and then with Frank Allen Pennington to launch an office in
Doncaster in 2007.

In 2011 Keeble Hawson merged with hlw to become hlw Keeble Hawson from which it shortened its name to Keebles in 2018.

So, how important is it to be different and how do you make an impact? You rebranded last year what was the thinking behind that?

Making an impact is key because you need to be able to differentiate yourself from your competitors. The law is the same whichever law firm you use but how you deliver your services in terms of the client experience you provide - and how you operate as a business in delivering those services - can certainly give you an advantage over the competition.

Regarding the rebrand, we felt the firm had undergone a substantial amount of change over the previous four to five years involving a significant re-focus of the business away from areas where it had historically been strong. This, coupled with the natural evolution which occurs in partnerships over time, gave us the opportunity to demonstrate both internally and externally through our rebrand that we are progressive, modern and forward thinking.

We also like to think we make an impact locally, not just because of the value we can add to local businesses and individuals through the provision of legal services, but by our involvement in the local community through our pro bono and CSR initiatives.

What are the challenges for running a successful law firm? How does Keebles attract new talent from outside of Yorkshire? Plus how can you do things differently in getting your messages across using different media?

The challenges are numerous:
1. Attracting and retaining talent.. We invest heavily in developing our talent because we feel it is important to ensure that our junior lawyers understand our culture and our way of doing things so that our levels of service to our clients are consistently strong. We have some of the most talented young lawyers around and unfortunately, on occasion, some of our competitors agree.
2. Regulatory changes – up until five years ago, the firm had a thriving personal injury practice. Changes by the government under LASPO 2013 made that line of business not viable and it in part prompted the refocus of our business towards private client and commercial services only.
3. New entrants to the market – as the SRA has reduced the barriers to entry to the provision of legal services, so the number of potential competitors and new entrants to the market has commensurately increased. At present those have largely been confined to consumer related legal services but it is possible that in the future these will expand into other areas and more directly affect what we do.
Those new entrants often take a very disruptive approach to the provision of legal services because they do not feel bound by any traditional way of working as lawyers can sometimes be. This means they can be more nimble and innovative in their approach.
4. There is a lot of talk in the legal profession at the moment about artificial intelligence and it is certainly true that the ability to maximise the use of technology is both a challenge and an opportunity for law firms in terms of the efficiencies which can be generated and the improvements in client service which can follow.

As well as my work as the Yorkshire Times' business editor, I run The Gravitas Matrix where I work with clients on leveling up their impact, authority and profits, by helping them become thought leaders and how to recruit, engage and retain the talent of the future, helping companies work with different generations, communicate confidently and present well.

How do you encourage your teams to keep abreast of regional and national issues and communicate with impact and play to their strengths?

We think it is really important for our staff to play an active role in their local communities. One way to do this is to ensure they network with their contemporaries in the wider professional and business communities. We expect our lawyers to invest in their relationships with their clients. Not only does this improve the delivery of service from us to our clients, because we understand their business better, but it enables us to anticipate the future challenges for our clients and therefore be able to respond to them in a timely fashion.

We also encourage our staff to demonstrate their skills through thought leadership, whether that be by way of the publication of relevant articles to clients and in industry media or through hosting seminars and workshops for our clients and intermediaries. These are important ways of demonstrating our expertise but also for us to listen to those people who have direct experience of the legal issues on which we are advising.

Keebles has been applauded for its work in The Legal 500 UK 2019 -2020 and you have been praised in the corporate field and as a deal maker in the Legal 500 UK... can you give us a snapshot of your work as managing partner...

I have in fact recently stepped down from my position as managing partner and am now the senior partner of the firm. I was managing partner for ten years, which in my view is long enough for anybody to be in a leadership role within a law firm, especially bearing in mind the challenges for law firms over the course of the last decade.

Keebles Corporate Team
Keebles Corporate Team
I felt it was important for the partners and the staff to hear a different voice and although I am still engaged in the firm’s wider strategy, I now have less day to day involvement in management.

This means that I have been able to return to my role as a frontline fee earner, which was the reason I became a lawyer in the first place. While I was managing partner I maintained a fee earning role and the original plan was that I was going to split my time 50% fee earning and 50% management. In fact, I split my time 70% fee earning and 70% management!

Sheffield is an important city - how does Keebles contribute to the public policy debate and what are the key sectors in the region and some of the issues businesses face?

This re enforces my point about the importance of playing an active role in our community. As well as being involved with numerous charities through their position as trustees one of our partners is also on the board of the professional sector for the Sheffield City Region LEP.

Manufacturing always has and will continue to be an important sector for the Sheffield city region. Increasingly this has moved away from traditional metal-bashing although there is still a role for them to more specialised and advanced manufacturing industries.

More recently tech businesses including IT, digital and creative businesses have made their home in the local economy and are thriving and, given the size of the local authority and other public sector organisations, the public sector itself has been a significant element of the local economy.

All those sectors to a lesser or greater extent face similar issues. Transport, not only the decision relating to HS2 which is significant for the local region, but just as importantly the decision relating to HS3 and the creation of a proper interconnected transport solution for the Northern Powerhouse is of critical importance.

I cannot think of anywhere else in Europe where three major industrial centres such as Sheffield, Manchester and Leeds, a matter of only 30 or 40 miles apart, could have such a poor transport infrastructure.

The Sheffield City Region has in the past been somewhat in the shadow of its more well-known neighbours such as Leeds and Manchester. It still lags behind them in terms of profile and status nationally and internationally and more work is needed to ensure that inward investment matches the undoubted potential of the region.

Without going into too much detail on Brexit... what are the challenges for businesses and what is it you are hearing from businesses?

Brexit remains a very significant issue for a large number of my clients - particularly those who are involved in export to the EU or who are dependent on supplies of product from the EU.

We recently hosted a seminar to assist our clients and contacts in preparing for Brexit - particularly in relation to international trade. Our clients are no different to anyone else and tell us they would like certainty. None of them are naïve enough to think that a No-Deal Brexit would somehow resolve Brexit once and for all, but the sooner that some certainty in terms of what the future relationship with the EU will look like can be achieved the better for all concerned.

What next for Keebles?

As highlighted above, having undergone a really significant period of change over the last few years, the firm has refocused on its core areas and we have achieved some really impressive growth in our core business over that time as well as establishing ourselves in Sheffield as a genuine alternative to the national and international firms here.

In the short term our ambition is to continue that growth and standing along with maintaining the development of the firm and its staff. I don’t see us opening offices in new locations at least in the short term nor merging with another firm as our partners value their independence and the culture we have created at Keebles - both of which would necessarily change in the event of a merger.