Douglas Wemyss buys former Bank of Scotland site in Friar Lane, Leicester
The owner of an expanding law firm has bought a landmark city centre building as part of plans to double its workforce over the next year.
Sameer Karim, of Douglas Wemyss Solicitors, has purchased 14 Friar Lane, a former bank which has stood empty for five years, for a six-figure sum.
It will provide the firm, which occupies the building next door, with room to grow its staff numbers from 26 to 40 by the end of the year while retaining its current offices.
Mr Karim, who bought Douglas Wemyss in 2008, said he had been looking outside the city centre at offices that could accommodate his growing workforce.
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So it was a "dream" to buy the grand building, which used to be occupied by the Bank of Scotland.
He said: "The property was up for sale when I took over the business but was not within my grasp financially.
"It was a dream of mine to buy it one day – it's so iconic.
"It's been left completely since the bank moved out and needs a lot of work doing to it – the plan is to keep the heritage look but inside we want to strip it back and start from scratch.
"We are bursting at the seams in our offices at the moment so it's full steam ahead so that we can be in by the summer."
Since Mr Karim bought the firm, he has set about making it more accessible with a less traditional, stuffy feel.
It has introduced a more flexible fee structure, opens seven days a week, launched a legal shop and offers a "lawyers on wheels" service for solicitors to visit clients in their homes.
Turnover has increased by 25 per cent for the past two years and Mr Karim said this January business was up by 20 per cent compared to the same month last year.
In the past 18 months, staff numbers have increased from 16 to 26.
He said this had helped the firm ride out the double whammy of the recession and the recent deregulation of legal services, which paved the way for non-lawyers such as the Co-op to enter the legal market.
Mr Karim said: "Our lawyers are more commercially minded, so as well as offering a business legal advice they will ask them 'where as a business are you going, where would you like to go and can we help you get there?'
"The only way to stand out from our competitors is to offer over and above the average."
Mr Karim was forced to close the firm's Loughborough office when he took over five years ago.
But the business is now re-entering the town's legal market with solicitor Maria Armstrong-Langley covering the area.
The new jobs at the Friar Lane office will be a mixture of solicitors and support staff.
"We are bringing a modern approach to a traditional building, which is what we are doing with the business," said Mr Karim.
"We still work in a very traditional profession and although sometimes being different doesn't pay off we find it is working for us."