Partner Jeremy Holt discusses growing and running a law firm, according to ‘conventional wisdom’.

Conventional wisdom is that law firms should:

  • only involve partners in recruitment;
  • have financial targets;
  • keep all legal work within the firm; and
  • expand.

But conventional wisdom is not always right.


Employ the right people. No fee earner joins our firm unless they have been interviewed and approved by all fee earners. We do not want one bad apple to spoil our carefully nurtured culture. This approach may appear fearsome but it is a two-way process in that a candidate also gets to meet all his / her potential work colleagues.


Create the right environment. This is undoubtedly easier in a small firm but every rule must have a strong justification. Dynamic creative people do not like pointless rules.

We expect our fee earners to work hard and take actions for the benefit of the firm as a whole. Billing and time recording targets can get in the way of that. The absence of targets for either means that there is no hoarding of work. There is no temptation to “dump” time on matters in order to meet artificial targets. More importantly, the client benefits in that the job gets done by the right person.

Sending work out

We will not any do any legal work unless it is in an area in which we specialise. We only provide non-contentious business advice. All other work we refer to other firms who we believe are specialists in what they do. We do not send work out on the basis of reciprocity. Where we need external advice, we buy it in from other law firms and recharge it at cost. We therefore have sufficient expert resource but without having the accompanying overhead. We get to cherry-pick who we want to do the work externally.


Some firms believe that big is beautiful and see growth in the size of their firm as a main driver. This should not be an end in itself; we have no desire to be a “Top 100 law firm” as size in itself has limited benefit to our clients. Transactional work requires a firm to have a certain critical mass but beyond that growth for growth’s sake does not appeal.

The principles set out above may seem like utopian ‘pie in the sky’. They may be, but they are the ones that we adopted when we set up our firm more than 20 years ago.

Jeremy Holt is a partner in Clark Holt Commercial Solicitors.

Jeremy will give the keynote speech at this year’s conference. Book your place at the Small Firms Division annual conference:

22 September – London

6 October – Leeds