The Brief talks to one of the North West’s most well known lawyers
Paul, it’s been a while since we last interviewed you. How have things been?
It has certainly been a very busy three years! When we launched the firm, one of our aims was to become a realistic alternative to the national firms and I think we have achieved that goal. We also wanted to offer a different working environment to most of the competition and again I think we have been successful in creating a compelling alternative.
Our offering has been enhanced with the launch of our real estate practice. The team is led by partner James Wynne who joined us from Shoosmiths in 2016. We also launched a regulatory and compliance team in 2015 which is headed by partner Tristan Meears-White who was previously a partner at DWF. Elsewhere, the corporate and corporate recovery teams have been boosted by the arrival of experienced partners Tim Hamilton and Dermot Preston.
We have also added many businesses, including some household names, to our client base. Those client wins include engineering /FM provider NG Bailey, Iceland Frozen Foods, DHL Express, Fircroft, Revolution Bars and XPO Logistics.
What have been the milestones/ successes since you established Panonne Corporate back in 2014?
There have been several but the two that stand out for me are our move in early 2015 to the Chapel. The grade II-listed building was owned in the 1980s by Pete Waterman and was once the recording studio for Stock Aitken and Waterman. It is a great environment for clients to meet us and do business and also for our staff. Moving to the Chapel was a decision that I think some more traditional firms may have balked at but it has worked very well for us and our clients.
Secondly, we were particularly proud to recently achieve Investors in People Gold accreditation at the first attempt. Our team is at the heart of everything we do at Pannone Corporate and to join the top seven per cent of accredited organisations across the UK is a fantastic achievement in a short period of time.
Have there been any unexpected challenges or hiccups along the way?
There have been the usual challenges associated with setting up a new business one of which has been recruiting the right people, with the right skill sets that fit with our culture. We are finding that we are an attractive career option to people who want quality work with a very supportive and collegiate environment.
Often the biggest challenges are external. The ‘Yes Vote’ back in June certainly sent tremors through the market and, for a while some corporate and real estate transactions were put on hold as people took a step back to try and determine the implications of Brexit. However, after the initial shock, the local market seems to have recovered and our transactional teams are busy and have a healthy pipeline looking ahead into Spring and Summer 2017.
Have you had any regrets since setting up?
Only that we wished we’d done it a few years earlier.
How are you finding the Manchester/ North West market at the moment?
Buoyant. The corporate transactions market is strong and there are several major property redevelopments going on in the region which we are involved in. There is a lot of anticipation as Manchester and Liverpool city regions get ready to elect their own London-style mayors to drive forward devolution.
When we get a greater understanding of what exactly the Northern Powerhouse translates into and the mayors are appointed and their plans articulated, there will be greater clarity as to how we can capitalise on the opportunities the Northern Powerhouse will present.
What are the growth areas for the firm?
Real estate, commercial (including IT and IP) and corporate. Our clients are busy and generally very confident about the next 12 months. We are also winning a significant number of clients across all areas of the firm.
Any predictions for the next 12 months?
There will be further consolidation among law firms particularly in the mid-market. As I am writing this there has been news of a possible merger. There remains plenty of speculation and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn of other mergers or acquisitions.
Brexit is still very much up in the air but what do you think the impact will be on the legal market?
It is very early days. However, if the predictions of relocation by some of the international banks and finance businesses to Dublin, Paris and Frankfurt prove to be correct, I think the biggest impact may be felt by some of the large City firms.
That said, there will be areas of the law which will continue to thrive such as data protection, competition and employment. A significant amount of developments of the law in these areas has come from the EU and therefore are likely to change once Brexit happens.
The last few years has seen a spike in the number of ‘boutique firms’ – why is that?
I think there has been a definite shift away from the perception by clients that ‘bigger is always better’. Businesses are more prepared to look at boutique firms - driven by a desire to reduce costs as well as to obtain the services of highly-skilled lawyers with specialised experience. Boutique firms are also very good at looking after clients.
There has also been an upward trend in high profile lawyers with strong client connections taking the plunge and launching boutique practices. I think this will continue both here in the North West and nationally.
What’s next for Pannone Corporate?
It has been a fantastic three years however we won’t be resting on our laurels. We are an ambitious firm and we intend to further develop the brand and continue with our organic growth strategy. We are looking at how we look after and service our clients during 2017. We always want to improve our client experience. We will continue to speak to businesses that want quality advice, at sensible fee structures and who want a genuinely relationship driven and partner led service.