A key player in the criminal legal aid market has reacted to the prospect of rate cuts by announcing an ambitious expansion plan.
Reeds Solicitors told the Gazette it plans to cover every court and police station across the country in the next 10-15 years. The firm is already part of the 'big firms group', whose members carry out a quarter of legal aid work.
The firm acquired Cartwright Clark, the largest criminal practice in Milton Keynes, last month. The deal will not lead to redundancies.
Reeds’ managing director Jan Matthews (pictured) told the Gazette the firm’s long-term plan is to be ‘truly national’ in the next 10-15 years.
Matthews said: ‘What this means is not that we have an office in the south, midlands and north, but that we cover every single court and police station across the country.’
Reeds is ‘not a big firm simply trying to make more money’, Matthews said. ‘We are a firm trying to make ourselves able to take whatever the government throws at us, whilst finding the best people to work with that we can.’
In January the government announced it was scrapping its controversial 'two-tier' contracting regime, for which firms competed to secure one of 527 duty provider contracts. Firms are still awaiting details of the replacement contracts.
A second 8.75% fee cut for litigators, which was introduced on 1 July 2015, has been suspended until 1 April 2017.
Reeds was successful in all its bids for new legal aid contracts. But Matthews said the firm’s growth plans were ‘never affected’ by the now-abandoned contracting regime.
Over the next five years, Reeds will focus on the south of England and Wales, in particular Hampshire, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire, Gloucestershire and South Wales.
Matthews said he is speaking to around half a dozen firms, which includes criminal-only and multi-disciplinary practices about possible tieups.
‘The following five-10 years will be about using this method of expansion, plus a few targeted larger mergers, to provide the national coverage we aim to achieve,’ he said.
Reeds' expansion plans follow the acquisition of high-profile criminal defence practice Kaim Todner Solicitors by alternative business structure One Legal. At the time One Legal co-founder Trevor Howarth, former legal director of Stobart Barristers, told the Gazette he was in acquisition talks with 'some very well-known firms'.
Reeds has also established an ‘integrated chambers’, which currently has 12 barristers, five higher courts advocates and four pupils.
‘We have been developing this [chambers] very much with a view to the future, such that we are now in our fifth year of offering pupillages, having just taken on a record seven pupils,’ Matthews said.
Acknowledging that some members of the independent bar will view the firm’s chambers as a threat, Matthews pointed out that some pupils had left the firm to join the independent bar.
Matthews predicted that the independent bar will ‘shrink’ – but that it will not disappear.