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Workman-like approach to business

PUBLISHED: 15:47 25 September 2012 | UPDATED: 21:56 20 February 2013

Workman-like approach to business

Workman-like approach to business

Cheltenham's legal eagle lives and breathes the business

Workman-like approach to business

Cheltenhams legal eagle lives and breathes the business.

John Workman is not your average suited and booted Cotswold lawyer. When I meet him at his offices, hes wearing pin-striped trousers, but no jacket heavens above no tie either, just an open-necked shirt.

This is perhaps a refreshing change for the Senior Partner of a high profile legal firm, in this case Cheltenhams BPE Solicitors, and certainly makes his visitors feel much more relaxed.

John has been at the firm since 1996. Nine years later he led an MBO and since then business hasnt looked back. Between 2004 and 2008 BPE doubled in size and while the recession temporarily knocked back the firms ambitions, and income, it is again on course to achieve turnover in excess of 7 million.

Our corporate work held up well as we act for a significant number of acquirers, he explains. Of course, for those that can afford it, theres no better time to buy than in a recession. Commercial work too has gone from strength to strength and litigation work has risen, especially for commercial contracts and construction. The firm has increased its capacity for private client work but disposed of its non-core personal injury business.

John joined BPE after training at a leading London legal firm before moving first into money, then drugs. I enjoyed writing that sentence, but I suppose Id better explain.

He worked for Portal Holdings, which made bank note paper for the UK and other Governments (it was bought out by De La Rue in 1995). His job in drugs (a pharmaceutical company) lasted just eighteen months before Kodak bought it out. I then became number 99 of 100 lawyers, he said. Time to move on. He retreated for a while into private legal practice in Weybridge, Surrey where he headed up the firms commercial team but evidently craved the hurly burly of commercial business because after a few years he moved on to become Director of Transport for a large distribution company, finally finding himself temporarily leading the management team. However, heading up a transport and distribution company wasnt quite where he envisaged his career heading and he started to cast his eye around for the next, and what has turned out to be his most significant move to BPE.

When I ask him what he does to relax, John looks surprised. What do you mean relax, he asks. Johns version isnt exactly sedentary. In recent years hes cycled from Lands End to John OGroats and across France for charity, but admits he finds it almost impossible to forget about work. Even when hes out walking his working cocker spaniel, Charlie, hes reviewing the business , with its 130 employees, and planning its future strategy.

This isnt surprising; the legal profession is changing as it faces liberalisation where the Government is seeking to make buying legal services as easy as buying a tin of beans. This was referred to for a time as Tescos Law, however its not this food giant making running for once, but The Co-Operative Society which has, over the last few years, built up a large legal business, Co-Operative Legal Services, on top of its successful stable of businesses, including the most successful funeral directors in the country. Its a good fit: When a relative dies, there are a host of legal services that can be offered from probate to investment advice and property sales.

For the legal profession it will mean consolidation as firms merge to become more efficient and cost effective. The days of the generalist small-town legal practice are probably numbered, though John hopes some will survive. There is a place for traditional lawyers but they wont be able to provide the level of service they need to by charging bucket shop fees, he says.

John sees limited deregulation as a good thing for the legal profession as he thinks it will signal an expansion of the market when people who were previously wary of the law become more familiar with what it can offer them and start taking advantage of the opportunity. For BPE it means the beginning of phase 3 of the firms growth something he is definitely looking forward to.

Back to BPEs Cheltenham office, which is also, improbably, The Estonian Consulate (in Cheltenham - who knew?). Over a cup of tea, complete with an extra pot of hot water all laid out on a tray and doily, we chat about people John admires. The first name that comes up is, surprisingly, Ann Widdicombe, who he met when she visited the offices with a local prospective parliamentary candidate. Shes brilliant Im a big fan, he says. Shes very quick and intelligent. Churchill and Thatcher are also high on his list of admirable people and Boris Johnson, though perhaps not for the running the country (The Mayor of London dangling from a zip wire at the Olympics is funny, perhaps not if he were the Prime Minster). Still, a stimulating dinner party guest list. I wonder what his wife, a health visitor, or his three children aged 21, 19 and 14 would make of such an evening. Even for John, a big personality himself, it might be rather overwhelming. I would sit back and listen in awe, he says. Probably the first time in a long time, John Workman would be lost for words.

BPE Solicitors Factbox


Managing Partner:John Workman

21 Partners

43 fee earners

56 support staff

Major Clients:Includes Mears Group, Supergroup, Interserve, Green Compliance, Royal College of Engineering, Cotswold Outdoors, Lloyds TSB, Jelf Group, Britannia Construction, Howard Tenens, Gloucestershire Airport, Everyman Theatre, Pure Gym, Brilliant Laundry Group, AGD Systems and Renishaw..

Teams:11 teams offering complete commercial and private client services, including IP, commercial property, family, commercial and corporate and Science & Technology.

Offices:St James House, St James Square, Cheltenham GL50 3PR

Unusual fact:BPE Offices are also the Estonian Consulate offices


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