Expanding law firm: ‘We don’t want to be Starbucks’

• ParrisWhittaker to stay ‘boutique’ despite Amsterdam office

• Aims to ‘be different to survive’ by going to seek out clients

• In ‘partnership’ talks with European and African law firms


Tribune Business Editor


A Bahamian law firm says that while its Amsterdam expansion has paved the way for partnership discussions with European and African counterparts, it has no plans to become a “Starbucks” equivalent.

Jacy Whittaker, partner at ParrisWhittaker, told Tribune Business that the Freeport-based firm is determined to retain its niche, boutique character despite establishing offices in Nassau, the Turks & Caicos and, now, the Netherlands.

Describing its business model as “boutique or gourmet coffee”, as opposed to catering to the mass market, he explained that the company’s strategy is to use its offices as a series of “touch points” that can be used to establish partnerships with overseas law firms in strategic markets that can generate business for ParrisWhittaker and the wider Bahamas.

Mr Whittaker, explaining that the firm’s maritime law focus was one factor that drove the Amsterdam office opening, added that it “needs to be different to survive”. This was why it had not set-up in London, given that several rival Bahamian commercial law firms already have an established office and presence there.

And he added that the Bahamian legal profession and other industries “need to go out and find the business” more, rather than seeking to bring investors and clients to The Bahamas, with law firms in particular too focused on a domestic market where there is insufficient work for all to survive.

Revealing that ParrisWhittaker’s Amsterdam office has been operating quietly for two years, having opened during the pandemic’s peak, Mr Whittaker said: “We’ve actually been commuting between Amsterdam and The Bahamas for the past two years, right when COVID started. We kept it quiet while we sorted out a few kinks. It’s a satellite office with two employees.

“Everyone focuses on bringing people to The Bahamas, but sometimes you need to go out and find them and bring them back. We have Freeport, we have Nassau, we have Turks & Caicos, we have Amsterdam now.” But, amid the international expansion, Mr Whittaker said the company was determined to avoid taking on the characteristics of a large law firm with 20-30 attorneys and lose its specialist, boutique feel.

“Instead of being Starbucks, let’s be boutique coffee, let’s be gourmet,” he told Tribune Business of ParrisWhittaker’s philosophy and business model. “Let’s create these touch points throughout the world and build a network that way. Let’s keep it small and boutique with touch points for clients. It’s really to network stronger by having a presence where we can go into other jurisdictions and meet people.

“Everyone is doing the same thing. We have to be different to survive. You have Lennox Paton in London already. Higgs & Johnson went to Cayman. We’re really nimble. Where should we go? Amsterdam was there and it’s the biggest hub in Europe. It’s really maritime-related. When you look at logistics, Amsterdam is like the gateway to Europe.

“You have to do something different. Everyone is doing the same thing. Long-term, our strategy is not to grow too big, too quickly. We want to stay boutique in the truest sense. We don’t want to be Starbucks. The beauty of being boutique is that you can pivot really quickly, and in the pandemic a lot of firms had to pivot to stay relevant.”

The Netherlands is home to major cargo shipping hubs and other port facilities, while Germany, the UK and Belgium are in close proximity and also have major maritime interests. “You connect through there or Paris to get to the rest of the world,” Mr Whittaker added of Amsterdam. “It was a really big pull to come here. It’s been really good.

“It’s headed in the right direction. We’ve been able to network and make connections that we would not have been able to make if we had sat still for the past two years. It was a big risk, but so far it’s working out. The main advantage is we’ve been able to grow out network more rapidly, I would say. We’ve been able to get into other countries.

“Right now we’ve been talking to a few other law firms in Europe who are thinking about creating strategic partnerships with us. ParrisWhittaker, we’re creating a buzz. We’re talking to a law firm in Africa that is looking at a partnership. Everyone focuses on the local markets, and to be honest there’s not enough to go around. Are we going to stay in the same position and fight over everything in it, or take the risk and bring the world back to The Bahamas?” he said.

“We’re in touch with law firms in southern Europe, we’re in touch with a firm from North Africa and we’re in touch with three other Caribbean jurisdictions on strategic partnerships. It’s working out really well so far. We’re meeting people throughout Europe. In the past six months we’ve made a good effort to get into jurisdictions like Italy and Greece. We’ve made some connections in Croatia.”

Amsterdam’s location between the Asian and the US east coast timezones provides a further competitive advantage, Mr Whittaker added, as it gives his firm “a six-hour head start” on rivals in The Bahamas and enables it to serve clients and legal/financial intermediaries on virtually all continents.

To-date the Amsterdam office has generated mainly maritime work and linkages, but he said there was clear potential to attract both private client and commercial litigation business. It is located in the Mahler 4 Office Tower in Amsterdam’s Zuidas district and financial district. Mr Whittaker and his fellow partner, A. Kenra Parris-Whittaker, will now operate in both the Amsterdam and Bahamas locations to be closer to European clients.