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Bevan Ashford is opening a Birmingham office as it scales down its Cardiff operation.
Employment partner Jean Sapeta is relocating from Bristol to head the new office with Elizabeth Oaten, a partner in the NHS claims department, as the firm attempts to enhance its existing Midlands-based clients in health, employment and projects.
NHS claims and healthcare partner Paul Barber will split his time between Bristol and Birmingham.
A further eight fee-earners are expected to move to the office with lateral hires likely to follow. Bevan Ashford is currently seeking premises in Birmingham and hopes to open in April 2001.
The firm's decision to open a new office comes during a review of its presence in Cardiff.
Chief executive Nick Jarrett-Kerr says: "We're reviewing that marketplace. We'll always keep a presence in Cardiff, but it isn't easy for English firms in Wales foll
He adds that the bulk of work for the firm's South Wales clients is currently undertaken in the Bristol office anyway.
The Birmingham launch is the next stage in Bevan Ashford's national expansion, after it opened in London more than two years ago (The Lawyer, 14 July 1998).
Since then the London operation has made three lateral partner hires, including Christian Dingwall, formerly a healthcare partner at Le Brasseur J Tickle.
Jarrett-Kerr says: "We've been thinking about Birmingham or the Midlands for two or three years now, and the idea has taken shape as we've acquired more and more clients there, particularly in the NHS sector."
The firm's existing clients include Birmingham University Hospital Trust, Birmingham Children's Hospital and Birmingham Health Authority.
"The office will benefit existing clients, but we also want to build a practice that replicates our core strengths in other areas," says Jarrett-Kerr. "This may start off as a niche practice, but it will grow in due course."
Quentin Poole, managing partner at Wragge & Co, says that a niche practice aimed at the health sector would be a plausible move for Bevan Ashford.
Although he adds: "The interesting question will be whether they're going to attack the health sector or whether they're planning something more full-service than that.
"If they're planning to be full-service, they'll face very serious competition. It will take serious investment and they'll have to recruit some really good people."
However, Jarrett-Kerr concedes: "Bearing in mind that this is based on existing client needs, we're not exactly starting from scratch. But to make a cold start in commercial work competing against Wragges would be very difficult."