Re-invention – a key skill for private client practitioners

 In Comment, Gill's Blog, Practice Management

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According to the Times on 26 July 2011 John Timpson is the fifth generation of the family to own Timpsons. It is no longer in the business of selling shoes from High Street shops. Instead, Mr Timpson had to take the hard decision to sell off all the shoe shops when he bought the business back from Hanson in 1983. He recognised that to turn the ailing business around he had to sell the bits that didn’t work and be the best at what you do. Does this sound familiar to lawyers right now as we grapple with the changes to the High Street and the provision of legal services?

Making tough choices

He had wanted to control the family business again but discovered that hard economics meant that what was once the place to do business competitively was not where his family business was located – selling shoes had become more diverse and had moved to upmarket shopping malls. Timpsons had too many shops in the wrong place and were too expensive for the markets in which they were trying to sell.

Selling the shoe shops to a rival chain was a hard choice and meant staff of long- standing were effectively being sold too. However, the resultant chain has survived and is now part of Bensons trading as Shoezone – a success story in the cheap and cheerful market.

This resonates when managing any business. Not acting because fears about staff losing their job leaves the business vulnerable and that may result in the very thing we worry about most – redundancies. Whilst a sale to a rival may not always guarantee all jobs it may mean more survive than if we struggle on too long in the wrong part of the market. Well handled it can result in a win-win.

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Revitalising the business

The sale of the shoe shops left Timpsons owning 150 repair shops which were not an attractive part of the market with repairs priced to a formula and no-one really making any money from this sector. Mr Timpson mortgaged his home and set about revitalising the business. He bought a small repair chain that was in difficulties and by reducing overheads turned a profit whilst giving his staff the steer that it was OK to be in repairs and he was not running away.

Recently, some firms have made the decision to cut loose their private client teams or offices which are in the wrong place for their core business. This may seem brutal but it is really the same thing – a firm has to focus on what it is good at to be the best and locate itself in the right location for its core business. Those practitioners who have decided to go with the private client business need to now revitalise that practice – no longer is it constrained by what ‘the other’ partners thought or what they understood of what the private client wanted or needed. Those of us in this world should think strategically and get together to offer a better service than before rather than more of the same.

Innovation through listening to the people at the coal face

Having taken back ownership of the business John Timpson increased turnover and acquired other businesses nurturing the idea that the people at the sharp end dealing with the customers should be responsible for developing ideas to increase profitability and deal with customers’ complaints and needs. Some ideas they came up with were wacky – one manager apparently ran a hamster holiday service – but most of the ideas were good and resulted in an expansion of the business into related services such as watch & jewellery repairs; key cutting; dry cleaning and photo processing.

If we talk to everyone in the business from the office junior to the most senior secretary; the finance team to the IT specialist as well as the various types of lawyers in the team maybe we could build a ‘trusted adviser’ hub which is distinctive and addresses the needs of our current clients as well as all sorts of different customers we are not acting for or listening to right now.


It takes a huge amount of guts and an entrepreneurial spirit to take on a new business when the old one is not doing well or is facing massive challenges but I know that those of you who operate in the Wills, Probate, Trusts and Tax world are creative or otherwise you would not be able to provide estate planning ideas for clients; I know you like a challenge because you have to deal with the OPG and HMRC on a daily basis to get the job done and I know that you are totally client focussed because otherwise you would not care as much as you do about the safety and security of your vulnerable clients.

Free yourselves from legal thinking and let your inner wild child out; be not just a good employer but the best; strive not just to survive but to succeed beyond all expectations; listen and not just talk. Re-invent your services and you will have created your own luck.

For more ideas on how to re-invent you, your business and your services subscribe to

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