Richard Bate, head of real estate at Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co, discusses the firm’s recent merger, where it’s heading and the wider real estate sector.
Richard, what’s your role at Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co?
My principal role is to head our Real Estate business which is now one of the largest and most diverse practices in the country. I am also overseeing investment in and the extension of our international reach. The final component of my working life is an active practice advising on complex projects for the UK’s leading national house builders.
How did you find the recent merger process?
Time consuming - but remarkably straightforward! The complementary fit of the of the Real Estate practices was one of the key drivers of the merger. Each offered something the other had long been looking for. All teams operate for the top clients (and deliver the most demanding work) in each sector, so there is considerable mutual respect. The cultural fit is also striking, which makes harmonising the whole business easier than you might think. There is much still to do – but it’s been a great start.
What’s the reaction been like from clients and the wider legal profession?
Very favourable. Some of our clients were shared, which had an immediate positive impact. Some clients needed the specialist skills of the other legacy firm. The LG institutional clients who are developing mixed use schemes and who are straying into new areas such as the private rented sector (PRS) have been particularly interested in the market-leading Wragge & Co residential development and social housing expertise. So this, coupled with the general economic improvement, has made the merger very well timed.
What did it mean specifically for the Real Estate team?
A significant increase in work for existing clients (exploiting the merger synergies) and a sudden injection of resource and complementary expertise. Wragge & Co had long wanted what we called the “elusive institutional client base” as well as a credible private capital team with exposure to international high net worth individuals, families and trustees. This has transformed the scale of the operation in London overnight. Now that we have very large offices in both London and Birmingham we are also developing communication channels and resourcing structures to optimise our business model and capacity in each location.
What are the Real Estate team’s main aims and objectives over the next few years?
The merger springboards us into the top five of all UK real estate providers. We intend to use that platform, and to develop all teams, to secure a place in the top three. The wider leveraging of the firm will also enable us to provide a more credible international capability to exploit our significant US-sourced work, and the expansion into Europe which is being led from our Paris office.
How are you finding the market now?
Booming, across all sectors. There is no difficulty at all in selling any of our services. The greatest pressure is on resource to maintain our momentum. Our primary aim is to hire additional lawyers of requisite quality, ambition and personality who will complement and enhance our existing teams
Where is the demand coming from?
The demand is strong from all types of client across all asset classes. This is keeping all of our main transaction teams busy which, in turn, is creating demand for specialist skills such as planning, environmental and property litigation. As corporate activity has improved we have also seen a spike in demand to provide real estate support for M&A activity, while our real estate finance team is busy advising investors, banks and other institutions as international money targets the UK.
What are your predictions on how the real estate market will evolve over the next 12 months?
There is a tremendous weight of money which is being invested into real estate now that the spectre of the UK recession is buried. Every economic indicator within the practice suggests that trend will continue at least for the next year. Beyond that, particularly following the next election, it is much harder to predict. But the consistency of demand across every real estate service line suggests this is a key part of our practice in which we need to maximise our investment.
What kind of lawyers thrive at Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co?
High quality, driven perfectionists who are obsessed with client service. However, we are not looking for clones. Our real estate business now has a turnover approaching £60m per annum. We need people who offer a diverse range of skills. Our lawyers need to be of excellent quality, obviously, but we are building a team – so that means we need lawyers who can sell, produce and, just as important, coach and develop others. We also want people who are as focused on what the team achieves as a whole, rather than those who are focused on merely their own personal success.
Can you sum the Real Estate team up in one sentence?
Huge – in size, range, quality, ambition and in our desire to offer clients the very best service and, in so doing, to build the very best career for each member of it.