Raworths, the long-established Harrogate legal firm with an impressive pedigree

PUBLISHED: 17:53 23 November 2012 | UPDATED: 22:26 20 February 2013

Managing partner Christopher Butterworth with partners Jonathan Mortimer, Simon Morris, Deborah Boylan and Zoe Robinson

Managing partner Christopher Butterworth with partners Jonathan Mortimer, Simon Morris, Deborah Boylan and Zoe Robinson

Chris Titley visits a long-established legal firm with an impressive pedigree

On one side of Victoria Avenue in Harrogate is a splendid stone villa. This is Eton House, as English and traditional as the name suggests. It is unshowy, solid, respectable.

On the other is Clarendon House, a boxy office block. By Harrogate standards it is unashamedly modern.

Eton House is home to Raworths, the legal business which this year celebrated its 125th birthday. But so too is Clarendon House: the firms corporate and commercial property units moved here in 2008. The two buildings neatly symbolise Raworths mix of ancient and modern.

Edwin Raworth the great grandfather of TV newsreader Sophie Raworth established the practice in 1887, and was soon joined by Jabez Butterworth. Today Jabezs grandson Christopher is the third generation of the family at the practice, working his way up to managing partner having first joined in 1966.

Such longevity might suggest that Raworths is an old fashioned sort of place, filled with dusty law books and even dustier partners. In truth it has always blazed a trail in the legal world.

The firm was among the first in the town to have a telephone, the number Harrogate 35. It was also an early adopter of computer-power.
In 1974 we installed the second word processor in the town. Our third word processor is in the Science Museum, explains Christopher Butterworth. We were doing computerised debt collection before Windows was commercially available.

As for those dusty books, forget it. All these law books we have hanging around the office are for decoration, nobody looks at them, confesses Jonathan Mortimer, the firms head of dispute resolution. Its all on the internet. I wouldnt dream of looking anything up in a book these days because the law just moves so quickly.

Raworths arent only pioneers in their use of technology. Christopher is a civil and commercial mediator, one of the first to specialise in this field.
With the changing legal landscape in the 1990s, heralding the no-win, no-fee era, Raworths took a strategic decision not to take crime or personal injury cases. Instead the firm expanded its commercial offering, and now its work is evenly split between that and private client business.

Simon Morris, who is head of the corporate and commercial unit, joined from a City firm which dealt with large corporations. Now hes more likely to work closely with Harrogates small and medium enterprises.

With the owner-manager of a business its far more personal, he said. You need to have that relationship and that trusted advisor. Thats very much what weve fostered over the last ten years, which has stood us in amazingly good stead since the credit crunch, because we have a very loyal commercial client base who stuck with us.

Ive always reckoned that a recessions serious when it hits Harrogate, adds Christopher. But compared with so many places in Britain we are very lucky.

Deborah Boylan, head of Raworths employment unit, believes the practices biggest challenge is to get firms to understand the value lawyers can add as, despite initial cost implications, they will save them money in the long term.

As with all sectors, the internet has had a major impact. Clients can get cheap and cheerful off-the-peg legal forms and other services online.
Value is the key, says Simon. We dont want to produce cheap, poor legal services. We want to produce good value legal services.

Its getting that model right, and surviving the onslaught of institutions that will base themselves purely on price.

As for the social media revolution, Raworths have given talks to firms on adopting a legally safe and fair company policy. And the firm itself is set to dip its toe gently into the waters of Facebook and Twitter, says Christopher.

He revealed that there will be no fourth generation Butterworth working at Raworths. Is he sad about that? I have no problem with it at all.
I have absolute confidence that Raworths is in good hands. We have got a succession in place.

It appears that the Raworths way of combining traditional, personal, local service with a pioneering attitude is set to continue. They still support good causes in the town St Michaels Hospice was their chosen charity this year while scanning the horizon for business opportunities.

Its about moving forward constantly. The competition is constantly evolving and developing, said Simon.

We have to use the launch pad that the last 125 years have built to take that step forward. Were very confident about doing that.

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