Penny Heighway talks to Sarah Foster about Freeths Oxford growth and expansion, 10 years after Penny worked at the firm that was then Henmans LLP.
Featured above: Sarah Foster, Managing Partner Freeths Oxford.
Freeths merged with the well-known Oxford firm Henmans LLP in 2013. How have you seen the firm change over that time?
Henmans was Oxfordshire through and through. Anthony Henman (father of professional tennis player Tim) had been Senior Partner for a number of years and the firm's clients were impressive—they ranged from a mix of local landed estates, Oxford colleges, through to international insurance companies.
Freeths was a long established national heavyweight which has been on an incredible growth journey in recent years, establishing and expanding offices in Birmingham, London, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Liverpool—with another new office opening in Bristol later this year.
Since the merger we have grown into Oxfordshire's leading law firm in terms of number of lawyers, annual turnover and Top Tier rankings in the legal directories. I would say the merger has enhanced the breadth of services we could offer clients, which has added to our appeal, but what has impressed me most is that we have retained our family orientated culture. We may have grown in numbers, we are now 120 with a turnover of £11.5m last year, but the vast majority of the staff who were with us in 2013 are still with us, as are our clients, and we are still even based in the same great office.
What stood out to me about the firm 10 years ago was the very equal male to female Partner ratio. Has that remained the case, and if so, has that had an effect on the development of the firm?
Yes, I remember both you and I were made up to Partners whilst pregnant with our first children, which was pretty ground-breaking back then! Thinking about it, I suppose I never questioned whether partnership or becoming Managing Partner one day would be achievable because it was the "norm" to strive for promotion—we were encouraged.
I have never felt that I needed to be anything other than myself here. We continue to strive for equality and diversity, but we were doing that well before the other firms in the region had put it top of their agendas. I think our equality in our partnership numbers inspires all junior staff that getting on in Freeths is based on work merit and that a life choice, like having a family, is not going to be detrimental to their career. We strive to make the return to work really easy for our staff in many ways and have always actively encouraged flexible and agile working.
Yes, work/life balance does seem to be important at Freeths. Practically how does that work day today?
We certainly believe that family time is just as important as work time. Technology has made it very straightforward to accommodate staff who want to work from home regularly or form any of our offices. The vast majority of our fee earning staff have a mobile, laptop, and remote log-on facilities.
We also regularly sponsor events where staff can attend with their families and enjoy spending days out together. For example, we've sponsored the Blenheim 7k Fun Run, the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford Playhouse and Oxford Lieder to name a few.
Similarly, we also encourage our lawyers to give back to the community. For example, we sponsor the Right to Read scheme, where we go out and read to children in local schools; and the Business in the Community Scheme, where we run mock trials in schools and colleges, and mentor university students.
Additionally, promotions at Freeths are very much within an individuals control. if you want it and work hard then there is a clear path to partnership. However, we know that partnership is not for everyone and you will still be recognised and valued if you choose a different career route.
Where do you see the Oxford office in the next 10 years?
We are currently Freeths' second largest office but our aim is to grow further to 200 staff and to increase turnover to over £20m. We will do this by both nurturing our own home grown talent and recruiting externally. Our plan is to grow our market share and to remain as Oxfordshire's "go-to" law firm for businesses and high-net-worth individuals.
Read the full article here.
For more information and a confidential chat about Freeths Oxford and any current opportunities for legal roles in the South East please contact Penny Heighway.
Date: March 2019