Top law firm appoints new senior partner

UK Top 50 law firm Birketts has elected a new Senior Partner.

Current UK Head of Property Chris Schwer has succeeded James Austin and started his new role on 1 April 2024.

Chris trained at Birketts between 1986 and 1988, and returned to join the firm in 2000, becoming Head of Property in 2005.

He specialises in all aspects of commercial property matters, acting for many of the East of England’s leading investors, developers, landlords, tenants, funders, and charities.

Chris said, “During my time at the firm, I have taken pride in mentoring and assisting colleagues in their careers at Birketts.

“When taking on the role of Senior Partner, a key focus area will be on encouraging social mobility, and promoting the various avenues that exist for those from all walks of life to get into the profession.”

He will also continue to play a key role in managing relationships with clients, offering close consultation and partnership so that the firm continues to offer next level client service.

Chief Executive Jonathan Agar said, “Over the last 24 years, Chris has played a key role in Birketts’ evolution.

“Since he took the helm of our Property practice in 2005, it has seen more than a seven-fold increase in fee income, and has become our largest practice area by revenue and fee-earners.

“His dedication and passion for the firm’s success makes him an ideal successor to James Austin, and I am looking forward to working with him as Birketts moves into its next stage of growth.”

James Austin joined the firm over 35 years ago, becoming a partner in 1990. Since then, he has held several management roles and witnessed first-hand the many changes which have taken place as the firm has grown.

He was first elected as Senior Partner in 2016. Over his two terms he has seen the firm through its entry into the London market with a merger with EC3 in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the most recent merger with Batchelors Solicitors in 2023 to extend the firm’s reach further into the South East.

After handing over to Chris Schwer, James will remain a member of the firm’s Corporate Team, offering senior support to the team and developing several key client relationships. He will also be acting on an interim basis to assist Birketts’ Commercial and Technology Team, as well as continuing to manage the firm’s complaints process.

Jonathan Agar, added, “On behalf of everyone at Birketts, I’d like to extend my sincere thanks to James for his support over the last eight years as Senior Partner.

“He has successfully stewarded the firm through significant stages of change and growth, from the mergers with EC3 and Batchelors, to the firm’s rebrand, playing a vital role in the establishment of Birketts as a UK Top 50 law firm.

“The fact that we have retained the firm’s unique culture throughout the last few years of rapid expansion is testament to James’ care and guardianship.”

Grace Kerr will take over from Chris as UK Head of Real Estate. She joined the firm as Partner in 2004 and has led the Chelmsford Commercial Property Team for the last 15 years. Grace is also Chair of Birketts’ ESG Committee.

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