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James Batt – managing director at BCL Legal – Private Practice: 2012 Review

To coin a phrase, ‘that was the year that was’ – and what a year it’s been; from mergers and acquisitions, to ABSs and the banning of referral fees. All in all, it’s been a turbulent and interesting 12 months for the private practice sector. There is – of course – way too much to cover off in one article but I’ve attempted to distil the key legal stories from across the regions. So, here goes…

In Yorkshire, one of the biggest stories has been DLA Piper’s potential decision to sell its defendant insurance practice which covers the Sheffield & Birmingham markets and comprises of four partners, 27 fee earners and 19 support staff. Only time will tell on how the deal’s going to progress but it’s one to watch!

On the merger front, the high profile news came from the joining forces of DWF and Crutes, Chadwick Lawrence and Godloves, Lupton Fawcett Lee & Priestley as well as Russell Jones and Walker & Slater and Gordon. Bond Pearce & Dickinson Dees have also just last week confirmed their merger under the new name of Bond Dickinson. On the ‘move’ front, Cobbetts’s pensions team, which was headed up by Richard Shelton, moved to Eversheds whilst two banking partners from Nabarro – Andrea Cropley & Dean Gormley – left to join Irwin Mitchell’s Sheffield office.

Over in the Midlands, the buzz has most definitely again been around mergers with DWF and Buller Jeffries & McGrigors and Pinsents as well as Freeth Cartwright and Henmans all coming together. However, the big one has to be Shakespeares and Harvery Ingram as their joint announcement created the second largest law firm in the Midlands. There was also surprise when Marie McMorrow and Tom Nener joined the IP team at Cobbetts from DLA Piper.

In the North West, there was also quite a few office openings across the region, including; Browne Jacobson and Ward Hadaway in Manchester, plus there’s the buzz of Keoghs’s announcement that it is moving into the city. Manleys also launched in Cheshire whilst Riverview opened its doors in Liverpool with much fanfare and plans for a major acquisition and expansion programme.

Mergers were also on the agenda with Pinsent Masons and McGrigors joining up in May. Linder Myers’s acquisition of Rowlands Field Cunningham and SNG caused a stir whilst SAS Daniels acquired Heaton TWP Solicitors and Stephensons took over Dobsons Solicitors.

In terms of hires and moves, Irwin Mitchell took John Close from Freeth Cartwright and it is rumoured DLA Piper’s real estate team may soon follow suit. Plus, the defection of McGrigors’s construction team to Eversheds was also a big story. Clyde & Co’s Manchester fraud head Damian Ward put the cat amongst the pigeons when he took a team of 17 to Keoghs after quitting the firm in the summer.

The term ABS was also high on the news pages in 2012 with Irwin Mitchell becoming one of the first organisations to be approved as an alternative business structure by the SRA in August. Parabis was another high profile name after Duke Street acquired a significant stake in it. Whilst Keoghs sold 22.5% to LDC – the private equity investor – in November. Quindell was a name on everyone’s lips after it raised £30m via a new share placing at the beginning of the year. Since then, it has gone onto acquire the likes of Silverbeck Rymer and Intelligent Claims Management and it has increased its stake in Ai Claims to 77%.

Fee income was another issue in the headlines with several firms posting encouraging results; Cobbetts announced fee income of more than £20m for the half year to November, JMW continued its strong performance in the first half of its new financial year with 14% growth in fee income but, on the flip side, Addleshaw Goddard this month announced a 3% dip in fee income for the half year to the end October.

In the North East, there has been a lot of interest in Kennedys tie-up talks with Simpson & Marwick. If it happens, a merger would give Kennedys its first presence in Scotland which would be an exciting step. Eversheds was also in the news after Newcastle International Airport was ordered to pay more than £500,000 of legal costs into a holding account after it failed in its attempt to sue the firm for negligence.

Down in the South West, November saw the news that Wilsons was to offload its Bristol office to Michelmores following a dispute with two partners at the base. The national media reported the deal would see Michelmores enter the top 100 UK firms by turnover. Whilst Browne Jacobson topped off a record year of growth by launching in the region with a 25-strong team hired from local firm Veitch Penny. The firm opened its Exeter office in August. Hiring was also the order of the day for The Co-operative Group after it announced plans to create 3,000 jobs in a bid to make Co-operative Legal Services, which is based in Bristol, the largest consumer law business in the country.

Like I said, this is just scratching the surface but please do remember to keep an eye out for The Brief each month as it has all the latest moves, news and gossip from around the UK.

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