Looking at sectors within sectors

If sector specialisms are the order of the day, then London-based law firm Hamlins is the specialist’s specialist. It operates through sectors within sectors, overlapping sectors and sectors that are also services. Neasa MacErlean goes in depth with Vikki Bentwood, Head of Marketing and Business Development, and Daniel Bellau, Marketing Partner.

The 19-partner practice is not afraid to be different. Its one and only office is located well away from the City where many of its rivals are based. Instead, the 130 people who work at Hamlins are based in the heart of the UK’s capital’s fashion and shopping zone at Oxford Circus. Similarly, it does not follow the pack in its list of sectors. These are not comprehensive — media, real estate, digital, sport, retail, fashion and leisure. However, they include some of the big areas of the future. On media, “Every business has to consider their outward profile now,” says Daniel Bellau. ‘Media’ is classified both as a sector specialism and as a service, gaining the latter description because media — especially reputation management, privacy and social media — are issues for all organisations not just those in the traditional publishing and broadcasting area.

Similarly, the litigation part of the firm’s media team is acting as lead solicitor in the phone-hacking litigation against News Group Newspapers which goes to trial in the UK courts this October. This area of specialism takes the practice into the region of privacy and data protection — an area which the firm now classifies as a ‘service’. “Data protection and cyber security straddle most businesses,” says Bellau.

So there is no disputing Vikki Bentwood when she says: “We are looking more and more into sectors within sectors and niches within niches”. She throws out PropTech as one example. On cyber security, she points to the range of new products Hamlins has developed — including the audit it offers on the new EU General Data Protection Regulation. One advantage of rolling out innovative product lines, she says, is that it can extend the client base: “It’s important to bring in new clients by having new, clearly defined services out there.”

When Hamlins develops a sector or a service it goes full throttle. “We get very involved in the community of a sector,” says Bentwood. “But it’s not ‘one size fits all’. Real estate and [the service line of] corporate are much more about networking. Media and sport are very fast-moving and are much more about thought leadership and PR.”

In the corporate field, Hamlins is co-sponsor of Small Cap UK, an organisation for investors, advisers and the companies themselves. Overlapping (again) into other service lines and sectors, Hamlins takes part in breakfasts and other Small Cap UK events focusing in on issues including cyber security and digital. Networking is a main objective on these occasions. “We can create deals and deal flow by introducing people to each other,” says Bellau, who is also the firm’s Head of Corporate. “We’ve put many joint venture partners together, often marrying an attractive opportunity to a source of funds.” Making introductions is not a haphazard process but something which Hamlins plans in detail and follows up. “We are highly focused on making sure we cause as many introductions to happen as we possibly can,” continues Bellau. “That takes us to the heart of where we add significant value.”

By contrast, in media, sport and leisure, the firm’s focus is far more on blogs, articles, PR and — increasingly – videos. “We focus on the issues that are keeping our clients awake at night,” says Bentwood. She sees a switch of emphasis happening on the medium used. “Video is still tricky,” she says. “But it is the next stage. We are working to make it engaging for a wider audience.” Having the experts talking to camera also has the advantage of making the practice come alive. “It helps us to get the personality of the firm out there,” says Bentwood. “It shows we are fun and approachable.”

How else does Hamlins show its human side? A recent advance in this area was an idea that might have sounded small and flippant but was, as Bentwood says, “so successful that we had to take it down in the end as there were too many requests for it”. This was the Fidget Spinner (a de-stressing gadget and playground craze) which was offered to contacts this summer via LinkedIn. “It went viral,” adds Bentwood. “It showed we have a lighter side.”

Both Bellau and Bentwood look to a medium-term future in which the delivery of services, products and messages will be transformed. Bellau says: “We are on the cusp of there being widespread software provision that could undertake a whole due diligence exercise, for instance, or the discovery procedure in litigation.” Cost pressures from clients are pushing advisers across professional services to find new ways of carrying out the more routine procedures, he says — and these innovations are about to take over enormous areas of work.

In parallel with these developments, Bentwood is expecting to be communicating through new kinds of online channels. And she also predicts that, freed from some of their more routine labours (such as due diligence and discovery), the junior lawyers will become more involved in marketing and business development. In fact, changes are already happening. “Being a lawyer in private practice now means that you really need these skills,” she says. Within the next few months, Bentwood will be working on a relaunch of the Hamlins website – but this will be just the start for delivering the firm’s messages in a range of innovative ways.

Hamlins earned £13m in the financial year to April. It is one of the many practices which have not shown revenue growth compared to the previous set of accounts. But Bellau is not worried. “There are a number of valid reasons for this,” he says. “Whilst some areas of the firm are steady despite a consolidating market, others such as data protection are growing fast. We are on track to be where we want to be in 2020.” “We have won a lot of new business by successfully streamlining and focusing on our main strengths,” says Bentwood. The two marketers are agreed that maintaining deep and deepening specialisation is the foundation for the future. Bellau adds: “As long as we keep focusing on what we are good at, we will continue to succeed.”