James Brewster - associate director – summarises 2011 in the West Midlands & the insurance market in the South

Birmingham has long since been a strategic target for many commercial firms; the city has seen new entrants to the market whilst established local rivals have expanded the practice areas that have not been affected by the global doom and gloom.

Insurance fraud teams in the city take first prize for this and most notably the newly merged DAC Beachcroft’s Claims Validation Team. The other top insurance firms - Kennedys, Berrymans Lace Mawer and Weightmans have all grown substantially whilst top tier corporate giants like Wragge, Pinsents and Eversheds have all been relatively busy after expanding their real estate practices.

Birmingham also saw quite a number of tie-ups in 2011, a particular highlight was Sprecher Grier Halberstam and Martineau which is now known as SGH Martineau and has a £31m turnover.

HBJ Gateley Wareing has unveiled a new name as part of its rebranding exercise and is now known as Gateley in England and Dubai, while in Scotland it will adopt the name HBJ Gateley. The national firm also opened a Manchester office last year when it acquired a significant chunk of failed firm Halliwells.

In January, Harvey Ingram and Borneos merged, creating a full-service firm based at five sites spanning the Midlands and Home Counties. Parabis and Everatt & Co also merged in January. The merger took just six weeks to complete and guaranteed Parabis a broader insurance portfolio.

Shakespeares has recently announced its fourth merger in under 18 months following a tie-up with Solihull-based Wood Glaister. In June 2010, legacy firm Shakespeare Putsman merged with £7m turnover Midlands rival Needham & James to create a £24m, 56-partner firm. This was closely followed by a merger with £6.6m turnover Nottingham-based Berryman, bringing combined revenues to £28.4m and adding 17 more partners to the fold. In the Autumn, they also merged with Gorrara Haden - Birmingham-based two-partner specialist social housing practice.

The key launch of 2011 was DWF’s new office, which meant the firm expanded its asset finance practice as well as its lender services team. Partner Joanne Davis launched the new office after she joined from Shoosmiths.

Finally, let’s not forget that City firm Trowers & Hamlins launched a Birmingham office. The news did receive a mixed reaction from the local market, with many labeling the move as opportunistic. However, it will initially focus on the affordable housing sector and will be led by senior partner Sara Bailey, joined by London partner Jeremy Hunt and lateral hires Rebecca McGuirk and Yetunde Dania from Shoosmiths.

And Insurance in the South...

The insurance market in the South excluding London is very similar to that in the Midlands and the North in that 2011 has seen quite a lot of expansion among the region’s larger practices.  Whilst it is spread broadly across Bristol, Reading and Southampton, there are similarities to its larger siblings further North as firms continue adapt to the changing insurance market.

However, without there being a major insurance fraud practice in the region - at least on the same scale of those that we see in Manchester and Birmingham the rate of expansion is not quite as explosive.

The insurance team at Morgan Cole in Bristol and Reading grew in 2011 which was a highlight against the lack of growth seen in its other practice areas.  Insurance focused Greenwoods continued its steady expansion, particularly in Bristol and Southampton with the appointment of Clarke Willmott’s former defendant PI team and partner Rod Evans. Revenues grew to £18m and the firm remains committed to the full spectrum of insurance disputes, advising on personal injury, construction, health and safety and automotive related matters.

The Oxford office of the newly merged Clyde & Co is ready for further growth with its move from Nash Court to larger offices in Rowan Place.

Another key highlight was Reynolds Porter Chamberlain (RPC) opening an office in Bristol on the back of appointing CMS Cameron McKenna insurance - partners Jeremy Barnes, Joe Bryant, Simon Chandler and Peter Mansfield. Also, The Co-operative Legal Services in Bristol strengthened its relationships with several Bristol-based sets, signing new terms of agreement with Guildhall Chambers and 3 Paper Buildings. The high street giant has made no secret of its plans to embrace opportunities presented by the Legal Services Act including the provision of personal injury services and has been on a hiring spree at its Bristol headquarters which currently houses some 300 lawyers.