A growing criminal law firm has opened its 23rd office, but its managing partner says a ‘lack of people to hire’ is its biggest challenge – and one that’s getting worse.
Nonetheless, Jan Matthews said Reeds Solicitors would continue to expand, gradually moving north from its presence in the Midlands and the South, now bolstered by an office in Northampton.
“We just can’t find the people to staff our offices, and the situation is getting worse,” he told Legal Futures.
Reeds has 99 lawyers, around 150 staff and 230 staff, but Mr Matthews said up to a dozen staff had left Reeds for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in the past three years.
“We had people with £35,000, when the CPS could offer them £55,000 plus a civil service pension. We can’t compete with that. We rely on staff who do not want to work for the CPS.
He said other factors making recruitment difficult were lawyers retiring or being transferred to higher paying areas of work, such as family.
Reeds branched out, moving into family law (primarily care-related), mental health law, protective court and prison law. This accounted for approximately 35% of the firm’s revenue, with legal aid work accounting for 85%.
He said the expansion was based on people rather than places. Physical offices were essential for the firm to obtain legal assistance contracts.
“If we meet people who we believe in and want to open up in those areas and they want the challenge of doing something new under our banner, then we open up. We find the people and build around them. .
Mr Matthews said Reeds had outsourced its administrative, financial and HR functions to a company that specializes in providing such services to law firms. The cost decreased as the company grew.
Reeds was set up by Mr Matthews’ mother, Lee Reed, a solicitor-attorney, in 1999 as a single office in Oxford, specializing in crime. She was joined by her brother, Stuart Matthews, who is a partner.
Jan Matthews trained with the company, qualifying in 2008. By 2010 he was managing director and the company embarked on a series of “opportunistic expansions”.
He said the law firm would like to expand north over the next three to five years, but only in major urban areas where there was a sufficient amount of Crown Court work.
He supported the criminal lawyers’ strike, which was “outright” this week, although it did “not help” Reeds and his clients.
Mr Matthews said that as trials were halted, cash flow was becoming a “very important issue” for criminal law firms, especially smaller ones.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we start to see significant failures if this lasts into the new year.”
However, Mr Matthews said he expected the government to resolve the strike “rather quickly”, although he was unsure how.
“Something is going to happen that will allow for a resolution and both sides to pretend they have won to some degree.”