How Brabners aims to become a major force in Yorkshire's legal sector

The law firm Brabners aims to become a major player in the region’s legal sector. Its chief executive, Robert White, spoke to Deputy Business Editor Greg Wright.

The Yorkshire legal market is ferociously competitive. All new entrants must display a steady nerve and clear strategic vision.

Robert White, the chief executive of Brabners, believes his firm’s commitment to deep-rooted relationships will ensure it succeeds where others have stumbled.

Leeds is one of the largest and fastest growing legal markets in the UK,” he said. “The fact we’re establishing an office there shows that we are here for the long term.”

Robert White, the chief executive of Brabners, believes his firm’s commitment to deep-rooted relationships will ensure it succeeds where others have stumbled.

Brabners has revealed the location of its new Leeds office and announced the appointment of three new partners as it aims to become a leading player in the region’s legal world.

The firm, which will open its fourth UK office in Leeds this summer, will occupy the first floor of One City Square, joining the likes of Deloitte, LDC and Schroders at the landmark building.

The fact that Brabners has chosen a high-profile base in the heart of the city is a statement of intent.

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The office opening represents Brabners’ third major real estate investment in the past 12 months, after the firm, which is ranked as the best UK law firm to work for outside of London by Best Companies, recently relocated its Lancashire office to Walton Summit. It has also secured a new 20,000 sq ft office at Manchester’s Barbirolli Square.

Brabners has certainly moved swiftly to build its presence in Yorkshire, with the recently hired Marcus Armstrong joined by fellow corporate partner Chris Peace and real estate partners Edwina Hewson and Kieran Wilkinson.

All four partners have joined the firm from Knights, having previously been part of the Shulmans team acquired by Knights in 2020.

They are the first hires of Brabners’ recruitment drive following its entry into the Leeds market, as it moves to develop a full-service team in Yorkshire. The firm already employs more than 400 people across its offices in Liverpool, Manchester and Lancashire.

“Our launch into Leeds marked a significant milestone for our firm and follows five years of consecutive growth,” said Mr White. “Our investment in One City Square has a significant role to play in our future in Yorkshire and is consistent with our objective to build our presence in the market and play our part as an integral member of the Yorkshire business community.

“It is also in keeping with our recent investments in Manchester and Lancashire, and will provide an agile, collaborative and best-in-class environment to support clients, colleagues and the broader business community from across the region.”

Mr White believes there is space in the crowded Yorkshire market for a law firm which is committed to owner managed firms.

“Many of the larger firms have tended to focus on big national and global clients,” he said.

“Our sweet spot tends to be the larger and mid-sized SME (small and medium-sized enterprise) owner managed businesses where we have a great track record in building really meaningful relationships over the long term.

“We like the idea of our offices in Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool and Lancashire forming part of a Northern powerhouse axis to provide us with an access to talent and new clients.

“We have built up a specialism in a number of areas, including sport, manufacturing, technology and healthcare; the team we have hired in Leeds is aligned with our corporate specialisms.”

He added: “We are a business that seeks to build long-term relationships with clients, often providing a cradle to grave relationship for businesses that are developed and later sold.”

Mr White’s CV reflects the way the legal world has changed. Non-lawyers now have the chance to rise to the top.

“My own background is not from the legal sector,” he said. “I ran a couple of manufacturing and technology businesses in the gaming industry.”

Immediately prior to joining Brabners in 2017, Mr White was the managing director SME of Optionis Group, a private equity backed professional services group.

The firm has been in business since 1815 and has an independent grant making charity, the Brabners Foundation. Its client base includes charities, healthcare organisations and real estate companies.

“Brabners was founded more than 200 years ago and is still very much a purpose-led, values-driven organisation,” said Mr White. “It was very much aligned with my own values. We hold our independence dear and like to do things slightly differently.”

“While I don’t put a number down in terms of our targets for revenue and profit growth, we do aim to be the best business we possibly can.

“There is no reason why, over time, we cannot have an equal presence in all our markets.”

If all goes according to plan, Brabners could become a significant employer in the heart of Leeds. It could play a leading role in attracting and retaining legal talent in the region.

“Although we will not pursue growth for growth’s sake, there is the potential to have staffing numbers in three figures in our Leeds office,” said Mr White.

“We are seeking people who will fit into our business model.”

He added: “Although we would never say never to acquisitions, we believe the best route so far has been to hire like-minded people who align with our culture.”