On 31 December 2018 Ince & Co was placed into administration and purchased by listed firm Gordon Dadds. It left behind most of its international offices (Cologne, Dubai, Hamburg, Hong Kong, Le Havre, Marseille, Monaco, Paris, Piraeus, Singapore). The following is a profile of the legacy firm of Ince & Co.
Ince & Co, Holman Fenwick and Willan and Clyde & Co together formed the triumverate of top City shipping firms. Ince & Co also specialised in insurance.
Shipping firms tend to have a slightly more relaxed attitude to hours than more corporate finance-driven practices, and that seems to be the case here. Assistants have said that hours were generally civilised in all areas, and, pre-takeover by Gordon Dadds, trainees told the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year survey that there was an "excellent work/life balance", and that while they may not be the highest paid trainees, "we can enjoy hobbies instead of slogging away on cases" all night. A senior associate vouched in the 2015 survey that they "Get to leave on time or even a bit early most days - a vast improvement on previous job at a Magic Circle firm". Facetime doesn't seem to be an issue: "you are expected to put in the work when needed", said a junior associate, "but you are certainly not expected to stay late just for the sake of it". It's "very sensible" agreed a colleague.
Ince had a curious system where there are no departments, everyone just sat together. You could work for anyone, but generally had 10-15 partners who gave you work as and when you had capacity. It meant that as a trainee, you could carry matters through the two years of your training. A trainee said "not having to drop cases when you move seats" was a clear benefit, as were the "opportunities for really interesting novel work in niche sectors". That might mean the luxury yachts, with a colleague noting that work was "occasionally good with big cases involving big-boy toys". A downside of no departments was the danger of poor work allocation, and in 2016 a couple of trainess complained that there was "not enough work to go round for trainees", with an "imbalance of work" between them.
The opportunity to work abroad was a plus ("good opportunities for foreign secondments", vouched one junior). The firm had European offices Le Havre, Piraeus, Paris, Monaco and Hamburg to its letterhead, plus the only slightly more exotic Dubai, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore. Said one lawyer, "I've been to India, Korea, South America, Central Europe and had a fantastic time of it". So there were plenty of interesting places to work when the fleet's in port.
The firm's profitability stumbled in 2012/13, resulting in 10 fee-earners and six staff being made redundant in the shipping team. In 2014, 33 staff were made redundant. And revenues continued declining.In 2015, the firm blamed "current market conditions, particularly in the firm's specialist sectors", saying that they, "remain challenging due to the continued downturn in the market – most notably in the shipping industry". Juniors in 2016 told the RollOnFriday survey, "the money wagon has stopped rolling along", while a partner said there had been a "continued fall in staff motivation over the last 18 months".
The performance in the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year survey also suffered after a stellar run. An impressive second place in 2011 was followed by victory in 2012. And the firm retained its crown spectacularly in 2013. In 2014, though, it slipped to eighth place - though top ten is still excellent - but then crashed. Responses gave particular attention to the "fantastically friendly" people and the "excellent social life" (especially if you like sailing). Such a great place, in fact, that it's the only firm ever described as "like living in a land of unicorns and rainbows".
In 2015 it slipped to 16th place. Though that's a drop, it was still a good result (there were 54 firms in the survey) and it's a sign of the high regard staff held the firm that they were positive about the problems. Yes, the firm "has been through a difficult year", said a junior associate, "but there is a real drive to make things change - so hopefully the results will show". Others agreed that the firm was doing its best to make things better. "The way people are managed and communication with the staff could be better", said one, "though, to be fair, they are working on it". Many respondents said the firm remained packed to the gills with "approachable and friendly", "generally lovely" people.
But in the 2016 survey it plummeted to 10th from bottom. Chief amongst concerns was lack of work and, consequently, job security. "Every day brings something new", said one lawyer: "redundancies, leaving drinks, folks in floods of tears". Another said there was "plenty of time to relax" - but only because there's "not much work around". A colleague rued, "I'm probably next to be kicked out". Another cited "haemorrhaging partners/fee earners/staff" and the associated bad press. The rainbows "were an illusion", said another, "much like the covering of an oil slick". As for the unicorn, "it was violently *#*@ed before being sold on to the glue factory to help recoup operational costs".
In 2018, more redundancies followed, with 32 roles cut in the London office. There were several high-level departures, and the firm hunted for a merger, which increasingly didn't look like a choice.
Ince went into administration and was purchased by Gordon Dadds, which then rebranded itself as Ince Gordon Dadds, and then as Ince. So at least you know it has a brand worth keeping.