The Legal Cheek View
Ince, Ince & Co, Gordon Dadds, or Ince Gordon Dadds? With so many names, this firm has had a busy time. Here’s the full story:
Gordon Dadds was the second UK law firm to float on the stock exchange, listing on the Alternative Investment Market in 2017. This ‘Gordon Dadds Group PLC’ bought Ince & Co LLP (minus most of its international offices) in a pre-pack administration deal in December 2018, becoming ‘Ince Gordon Dadds’.
The firm has now changed its name to ‘The Ince Group’ or simply ‘Ince’ for short. However, ‘Gordon Dadds’ will remain the name of the private client and family practice in Mayfair.
Ince & Co was founded in 1866 in Cardiff and expanded to London in 1870. It was always heavily weighted towards shipping law and litigation.
Gordon Dadds listed as part of its growth strategy and has been highly acquisitive. It aspired to double its revenue within three years of listing and achieved that target early.
In its most recent financial results, the firm’s revenues dipped 3% to £97 million after breaking the £100 million barrier for the first time the previous year. It’s been a particularly tough year for Ince, which has felt the effects of Covid-19 on its UK and Hong Kong markets, as well as the Ukrainian conflict’s impact on global shipping, a key market for the firm. It also suffered a cyber-attack in March, when mid-way through IT system migrations in Asia.
Ince’s share price has had its ups and downs, tanking sharply at the end of July to a low of around 5p following the firm’s announcement that it was raising £8.6 million through the issuance of new shares and a loan. This quick capital injection came along with news that Ince’s chief executive Adrian Biles had stepped down. He has been replaced by Donald Brown, an executive director of the company and CEO of Arden, a corporate finance and stockbroking business that Ince acquired in April.
The firm counts corporate and tax as its largest practice areas, with other prominent practices including shipping, trade aviation and insurance. Trainees say the hands-on training is “excellent”: “you are learning through osmosis from some top legal minds”. Learning on the job means “soft skills definitely develop faster than legal nous”. However, one added that “a more regimented/structured training and development programme would be welcomed.” There is a “lack of day to day guidance, supervision and teaching” and “very little in the way of formal training” but “good exposure to a variety of work”.
Trainees are exposed to “really exciting work most of the time”. There are the “inevitable trainee tasks” such as “typical document management tasks” but these are fortunately “balanced out by real work such as legal research, assisting with witness statements/expert reports, and preparation for trial”.
One spy details: “The shipping cases are game changing for the industry. Our corporate team does some pretty swashbuckling stuff, which keeps one interested.” Another trainee was excited to have “worked on some high-profile cases, three of which made headline news”, whilst yet more gushed about “drafting a letter to a premier league football team and visiting a celebrity client’s home to have documents signed”. It is apparent that Ince has not lost its litigious roots post-merger, as trainees reported there was “a fair bit of bundling” but also “a good amount of advanced tasks such as drafting pleadings or liaising with opposing solicitors”. One rookie sums it up: “All in all, a healthy mix of brain work and ‘listen to Spotify as you paginate your sixteenth bundle’ work!”
The culture post-merger was positive. “A set of legends. Socialise with them outside the office all the time. No cut throatery,” remarks one rookie. Another speaks of their peers as an “excellent squad” who “actually love the friends” they have made at Ince. “They’re kings and queens,” another praised.
We are told Ince is “a very sociable firm” and there are a “decent amount of free hangovers” on offer, although events “are few and far between these days” as the firm controls its “very tight purse strings”. It speaks volumes for partner approachability that this sociability extends to the top of the firm. We are told the partners are “mostly great, a few are more daunting. I will go for one-on-one pints with several of the partners. I was at the theatre with one of the managing associates last week”.
The work-life balance is commendable too. “Real people work here, they understand that you have a real life”. There is “no face time culture” with trainees being “trusted” to handle their day-to-day. Whilst there are “longer hours in family and corporate”, in other departments trainees were living the dream as “6pm is the norm”.
One reports: “There are the odd late nights but a genuine appreciation for downtime, especially during holidays. The partners in my group are happy for us to work occasional flexible hours with the trust that we will get the work done. Working from the office is not enforced, but strongly encouraged, and there is no expectation for us to attend the office more than 3 days a week.”
Despite the flexibility, many feel that “they haven’t provided the kit to make WFH as viable/effective as in office”. It is worth adding though that Ince newbies are issued with laptops, a monitor and a chair for working from home. In the past, trainees have reported travelling abroad, but these appeared to be brief and case-related. So it appears from the trainees we spoke to that secondments are off the table.
As for the perks, it was reported that those at Ince & Co were “very good” but fizzled post-merger. There are said to be no more monthly ‘Ince Drinks’ much to the chagrin of one trainee. The “standard package” of law firm perks include discounted food, healthcare and gym membership. The firm does have a canteen which is “very well subsidised”. This “great cheap food” was a hit with trainees, although its quality could be “hit and miss” with reports of “school dinner style” lunches and “small portion sizes with no dessert”.
The office set-up is a curious arrangement. The firm’s main base is at Aldgate Tower which is a “lovely modern glass-windowed office”. There were grumbles about the open plan office as “loud dictations and personal calls drive everyone mad but when that’s not happening it works well”. But on the whole it is a well-loved location: “Really very decent. Modern, in a good location (although some debate this) and we have an exceptional view of the City from our balcony” which is used to host the occasional drinks party! Note also that the insurance practice at the firm has moved from Aldgate Tower to the Lloyd’s building “which is pretty cool”.