Susan Howarth & Co Solicitors

Highlighting best practice as a representative in The Parliamentary Review

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from Susan Howarth & Co Solicitors is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.


Highlighting best practice
Susan Howarth, Director
Founded in the Cheshire market town of Northwich in 1997,
Susan Howarth & Co Solicitors is a niche family law practice.
Driven by a determination to succeed, Susan’s belief in herself
was gained from extensive knowledge, experience, understanding
and compassion from working in the fields of probation,
psychiatric and child abuse social work and voluntarily with victims
of domestic abuse spanning a period of more than 20 years.
What follows is her contribution to
TheParliamentary Review
Rather than the pursuit of pure profit, a belief that everyone has a right to access
justice has been at the heart of the firm since its inception. That is not to say profit
is not important; clearly profit is vital, but for us it’s about balance. With this in
mind it was essential that we offered legal aid as part of our service, not least
because a significant amount of our work involved care proceedings and cases
of domestic abuse which invariably required such funding. The tension arose,
however, in avoiding the trap of being branded a “legal aid firm”, thereby missing
out on more financially lucrative work, which is where our reputation as one of the
best family law firms outside of the cities has proven invaluable.
Equally important has been our involvement in the local community and being seen
as a firm that nurtures an interest in the law: sponsorships, attending careers events,
student mock interview support, offering work experience and apprenticeships, six free
legal clinics each week and a CAB pro bono weekly clinic, to list but a few examples.
When forming a partnership in 2000 and incorporating in 2011, the vision was to
develop a legal practice for families across the generations, including conveyancing
(both residential and commercial), all aspects of legal services for the elderly
and wills and probate, with the firm’s commitment to quality being paramount
and specialist advice becoming its mantra – something evidenced by numerous
accreditations and panel memberships of all eligible staff and departments.
This ethos, however, can’t be sustained without careful financial management.
Achieving financial stability must be built on strong foundations, something
acknowledged from the outset. It is one thing starting a business armed with a business
plan and borrowing from the bank. Investing your own money and two and a half
years’ salary sacrifice is another. Hard as it was, it has repeatedly paid off over the years,
particularly when the recession hit. Sacrifices had to be made, but we were the only local
firm making no redundancies or pay cuts – something of which I’m genuinely proud.
Being a good manager is all about treating your staff with respect. Of course,
it’s difficult to establish close friendships as a boss, but it’s entirely possible to be
both approachable and commanding of respect. My style of leadership entails, for
example, never asking my staff to do something that I wouldn’t, and it’s paid off.
»Director: Susan Howarth
»Established in 1997
»Based in Northwich, Cheshire
»Services: Family, adoption
and public childcare law;
commercial and residential
property; wills, trust and
»No. of employees: 20
»Award-winning, Legal 500
ranked, community-focused,
Susan Howarth &
As with many industries, larger
firms are looking to displace
smaller ones. The challenge for
small firms like ours is successfully
fighting against such financial
strength, strong branding and big
marketing budgets. The choice
for us was either remaining
independent and highly tailored
at a fair price, or commoditising
and pricing oneself out of the
market. For me the choice was
easy: remain true to our ethos.
With our quality solicitors, we
offer something special: expertise
that can be marketed in the local
community, creating the type of
reputation needed to set your
service apart.
Six of our staff, indeed, have been
with us for most of the company’s
existence. With work comprising so
much of our life, making it a pleasant
place to be is essential; in practice this
has meant this has meant emulating
a caring, almost family environment.
Doing this has the knock-on effect of
improving our service delivery.
Financial management
Every pound wasted is a pound too
much. Being small and having close-
knit teams enables better management,
which helps with controlling waste.
Good credit control, too, means better
cashflow. Staff turnover loses money,
eats into profits and interrupts service
delivery, which can lose business and
money and cause time-consuming
complaints; therefore it’s essential to
keep staff positive and contented.
With the loss of legal aid in 2013
for all work (other than care and
some specific domestic abuse cases),
there was a significant loss of reliable
revenue. Plugging that gap was
urgent. We weren’t on our own; there
were thousands of small firms facing
the same problem. While this led to a
number of firms going out of business
through over-reliance on such work,
we were fortunate enough to have the
capacity to plug the gap by offering
fixed-fee products for processed-
driven work and redeploying staff
accordingly. It didn’t, however, provide
legal services for those on means-
tested benefits who needed legal
advice, for whom fixed fees were too
costly. We therefore introduced heavily
discounted fixed fees for this category
of client upon proof of entitlement.
Succession planning
Hundreds of small businesses like ours
have never considered succession
planning, and when the founding
solicitors want to retire, they find no
other option than to merge (essentially
a takeover) or sell and get little in
return for their lifelong devotion.
Either option will inevitably result in
the total loss of the firm’s ethos. The
other option is to grow from within
and retain that ethos, independence
and staff loyalty. That is our plan at
Susan Howarth & Co, but to achieve
this means existing management must
demonstrate the courage to let go
of some control and put their trust
and time into developing the skills of
those identified in-house who have
that management potential. It can be
challenging, but it’s essential for the
firm’s continued survival.
Compliance and deregulation
In the legal world of ever-increasing
deregulation and self-regulation, the
Solicitors Regulation Authority has
transferred and continues to transfer
responsibility on to firms to create
and implement effective in-house
policies, procedures and systems that
must be kept updated, monitored
and reviewed, at least annually. While
larger firms have dedicated compliance
departments, small practices face
massive input of their time, labour and
money. The tension becomes even
stronger when fee-earner managers
have to tag such duties on to their
existing massive workloads, which can
become unworkable resulting in non-
compliances. We accept that de/self-
regulation is here to stay, and in order
to ensure ongoing Lexcel compliance
further investment had to be found.
These challenges are real, particularly
for small practices, not to mention
risks of cybercrime; the impact of
ABSs; keeping up with technology;
and changes in how legal services
will be purchased in the future. By
tackling these ongoing issues however,
positively and progressively, we are
confident that we will both survive
Our office in the market
town of Northwich
At the heart
of the firm is
the belief that
everyone has
the right to
access justice


This article was sponsored by Susan Howarth & Co Solicitors. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it.