Brighton’s oldest law firm, Quality Solicitors Howlett Clarke, has gone into liquidation. 

The firm was a grandee of the south coast legal market. Jackie Gillespie, its Managing Partner, was recently appointed President of the Sussex Law Society. Its website – still extant at the time of writing this – proudly boasts of it being ranked as a Leading Firm 2017 in Legal 500 and of its 240 year history. Which ended earlier this week.

Quality street


Email enquiries went unanswered and no one was picking up the phone. But a spokeswoman for the wider Quality Solicitors group confirmed that Howlett Clarke was in liquidation and clients were being contacted. She had no further information, and the SRA, as usual, said that it was unable to confirm the firm’s status or discuss the matter. But RollOnFriday has been told that the firm recently lost a large number of staff, which can’t have helped the situation.

Unfortunately Howlett Clarke is the second “quality” firm this week to fail to live up to its moniker. 


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3-ducks 01 February 19 08:33

Contrary to the claim made, it's not "Britain's oldest law firm". That accolade belongs to Thomson Snell & Passmore which was founded in 1570.

Plenty of others pre-date Howlett Clarke: Farrers (1701), Blandy & Blandy (1733) and Freshfields (1743), to name but a few. 

Anonymous 01 February 19 09:56

Provincial small firms in Brexitania are all on the knife edge - all those places with chumps stupid enough to believe £350m a week are going to ask for their money and get a punch in the guts and be spat in the face, as the ERG walk away laughing as they toast their hedgie mates and the money to be made from chaos and Russian connections.

Anonymous 01 February 19 10:37

QS Howlett Clarke are a prime example of not how to run a law practice. Numerous senior lawyers leaving because of the ethos, having to pay out departing equity partners, failing to replace those senior advisers, failing to replace the lost work streams (commercial, corporate, litigation, employment, childcare etc) and substituting senior fee earners who bring in work and generate fees for non qualified staff to save money. At the same time moving to more expensive premises, and leading from a pile it high, sell it cheap perspective ie cheap conveyancing and wills rather than a corporate perspective.

Highly predictable but a shame all the same.

Not Surprised 01 February 19 11:26

There is so much one could say about how this sad situation came about. Woefully poor management, over-stretching the borrowing, QS branding, bitter in-fighting between the partners, internal litigation between the partners, discrimination, the list goes on.....

Quite frankly the rot set in years ago and it really was only a matter of time although I imagine even those in the legal profession in Brighton who knew anything about the firm are still surprised that the remaining EP's managed to drive the firm off the road so quickly. It's a real shame - I feel sorry for the employees who could not see this coming  

Tim L 02 February 19 04:06

Real shame.  I once got a mint imperial from their recprion after posing as a persoective client on a walk through Brighton - it was a very decent mint.  One has to wonder if their slapdash policy towards protecting their mints has anything to do with them shutting down. I had absolutely no intention of instructing them and only had to fill out a couple of surface scratching forms before being given free access to the mints.  It was 2012: “obviously not affected by the credit crunch I remember remarking”. 

Anonymous 06 February 19 16:27

Reputation for treating staff poorly, cut price conveyancing and will writing, paying out equity partners, running costs etc....pretty obvious that the people in charge cannot add up, only take away!

Marmite 08 February 19 12:21

An event like this always attracts the ''rubberneckers''.......and comments by lawyers that should look in there on rear view fact... directly in the mirror......


It was only a matter of time 11 February 19 20:39

Woeful staff management caused the practice to haemorrhage staff over a short period of time. A firm will find it difficult to survive when a certain department loses over 90% of staff within 2 years! 

Beechboy 18 February 19 12:10

No surprise and like many ex clients who have paid Extortionate fee’s for Mediocre services . I have been through 3 firms in a probate dispute , the advise and results in a 4 year battle . Nearly instructed them ,no return calls after 6 attempts gave up how fortunate for me.

Maureen Mitchell 19 February 19 08:27

Found them arrogant, and careless, property handed over in their premises was "lost", only to be found after involving the ombudsman, over a year after it was lost,. If this was their normal method of dealing with people I am not surprised that they failed. Their way of dealing with complaints left a lot to be desired, "QUALITY" I don,t think so, and the ombudsman agreed with me!

Anonymous 20 February 19 10:29

Marmite comments that other firms should look in the mirror? This has nothing to do with other lawyers? Which other lawyers commenting have gone into liquidation without paying their staff? 

How did they manage to sell on their clients without the clients permission? What happened to transparency, GDPR and client confidentiality?

The letters being sent to clients purport to them not having capacity to undertake the completion of current client matters, misleading at best and just completely untrue at worst.

Shipping all of their clients matters to the Midlands and then writing to clients, stating that if they wish to move their matter back to their own locality of Brighton then they will have to settle all costs to do so. This has been written in such a way as to discourage clients from choosing their legal representative freely, something that is their legal right. 

Many of the clients will be elderly and should be protected from this kind of behaviour.

Where are the directors? Probably setting up again or touting for positions in other firms offering their wares and clients as bait.

Where were the SRA in all of this? Has this firm acted in their own or their clients best interest in selling all their matters and clients to other firms without first obtaining the consent of the clients?

So much for rules and decency.

Sam croucher 21 February 19 02:05

Just read the above. This could seriously put my neighbour in the grave. What can i say to comfort her?

H 01 March 19 08:48

This is such a sad thing to happen, those of us who have worked for Howlett Clarke remember the integrity and reputation of the firm was never in doubt.

Since so many of the original partners went, the firm was run into the ground by bad management.

No other excuse, bad decisions, lack of planning, bad financial advice etc etc . 

Jackie and Warren should be ashamed of themselves.

Anonymous 04 March 19 13:26

The lack of contrition for this shambolic situation from the members, Gillespie and Robertson, beggars belief. Let's not sugar coat this. They have taken the oldest firm in Brighton, and in under 3 years turned it from a well respected and profitable business, to this car crash. They are to blame for this situation, no one else.

Js 08 March 19 10:24

Absolute shambles. My brother died this week and they are his executers. Rang office again and again finally found number that worked. They told us it was in administration and the wills would be in a warehouse. Keep speaking to administrators who say they will ask partner, Jackie Gillespie, to call. 5 days later and still waiting to find out who if anyone will call us and help in this awful time. Surely the law society actions when solicitors don’t do duty of care? 

Nc 09 March 19 21:13

The firm holds our papers how do we deal with getting them back surely we all should have been sent a letter stating  what will be happening to our papers


Anonymous 24 April 19 09:37

Have seen paperwork sent out by administrators, makes interesting reading.  Firm had significant core debt in 2015 and then the three other Partners, Colin Edmonds, Tim Fenton and Simon Rowe all left that year and took another £544,000 leaving the firm basically financially crippled and near enough dead in the water.  A business that size cannot realistically be expected to carry that much debt, particularly given the climate we are in.  My take on that is they got two younger partners on board, picked their time and then ran into the sunset leaving them holding the baby.  Very cynical to say the least although not surprising given people involved.  Anyway paperwork helps separate the facts from the fiction.  All very sad and peoples lives affected so real human cost too.  Best of luck to those who had the integrity to stick with it to the end.  I'm sure you will all be fine.  

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