Ian Robinson

In the last 18 months, Ian Robinson has led 150 year-old firm through catastrophic pandemic and into a new era by embracing modernity and change.

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Churchers can trace its history back to the 19th Century, when two brothers, William and George Churcher, founded the group in Gosport, Hampshire. The practice thrived as a family business for over a century, always with a Churcher at the helm.

When Russell (Pip) Churcher died in 1989, the family link was broken. By then, the firm had expanded into Cosham, Fareham and Lee-on-the-Solent. It has since added branches in Portsmouth, Ryde, Southampton and Cowes to become a significant feature on the local legal landscape.

Ian Robinson has a similarly impeccable pedigree. In 1976, while studying for a business qualification alongside his ‘A’ levels, his father – a policeman – spotted an advert for a magistrate’s clerk in the local paper. With 200 applicants for the role, Ian wasn’t hopeful, but he got the job and, with it, specialist training in magisterial law.

It set him on the path to the law, when he had an eye-opening moment watching a lawyer struggle to defend a client in court. Ian realised he could do a better job, enrolled in Chester’s College of Law, before becoming a fully qualified solicitor in 1987.

One of his contacts had once told him there was only one decent job in the magistrate’s department – Clerk to the Justices. However, the service was being restructured and there was a dwindling number of jobs in this area. “I could see the door closing and the only jobs were in a different part of the country. My wife was a Fareham girl, my children were settled in school. I wasn’t in a position to move and, in 1989, took the decision to leave public service.”

It was a new life. Ian joined Dutton-Gregory in the litigation practice, working alongside the managing partner. He was doing some family and commercial law and enjoyed the training he received. Nevertheless, in 1992, an opportunity emerged at Churchers’ Cosham office and he jumped at the chance.

Part of Churchers’ appeal was the ability to develop a new team. Ian would be a ‘specialist criminal defence advocate’, a new concept at the time. As his part of the business grew, he sought to draw on his early business training. “I brought some structure. I prepared draft accounts, gave details of projected income. It opened the partners’ eyes to how the business should operate.” He was instrumental in pushing the firm to bring in a financial director “Lawyers tend to be lawyers, not marketeers or accountants!”

By 1995, Ian became head of the criminal department. The team was dependent on legal aid and, with margins thin, needed to be run carefully. That meant being efficient on billing and on lawyers’ time. He picked his team with great care and the department grew quickly to be one of the biggest of its kind in Hampshire. It was an important example for the other teams within Churchers and paved Ian’s way to become partner in 1996 and ultimately lead to the managing partner role.

Ian became managing partner at 50, in 2006. It wasn’t easy: “I was still fee-earning, which often meant going to the police station in the middle of the night.” Nevertheless, he sought to put processes around the firm’s long-term strategy – restructuring management meetings placing the firm on a more business-like footing. Eventually, the dual role became too much and in 2016, Ian gave up the fee-earning side. This allowed him to introduce further changes to the firm that equipped it well for the future.

Ian plans to retire next year in 2022, having steered the firm through this “very difficult period”. “We are extremely well set up for this new post-pandemic era. We have real attention to detail in future-proofing the firm, which put us in a good position to implement change when necessary. We could see the pandemic crisis hitting and acted immediately to protect the firm, its employees and its clients and have managed to emerge from these tough times in a strong position.” Others haven’t been so lucky and the business is being approached by those who want to be acquired. They have been able to cherry-pick in some key areas where they want to grow.

How does Ian feel about handing over to a new managing partner? “While their vision will be different to mine, I want to help them implement that as far as I can. I believe I’m handing over a business in great shape. The staff know where we’re heading. We’ve got a fantastic succession plan in place and a talented pipeline of young partners who will continue to lead the firm into a bright future.”

By necessity, this briefing can only provide a short overview and it is essential to seek professional advice before applying the contents of this article. This briefing does not constitute advice nor a recommendation relating to the acquisition or disposal of investments. No responsibility can be taken for any loss arising from action taken or refrained from on the basis of this publication.