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Bevan Ashford's two PFI partners are leaving to join Bristol rival Masons and the battle is on for the hearts and minds of the rest of their team.
Leading projects player in the area and head of PFI Iain Fairbairn, together with partner Cathryn Vickers are working their notice from the firm.
Two weeks ago, four associates and several assistants went to a meeting at which a Mason's partner was present, where it was made clear to them that they would be welcome to join Masons.
Two days later Bevan's man aging partner Nick Jarrett-Kerr wrote a piece for the firm's in-house magazine Bridging the Gap to reassure staff.
David Hughes, a construction partner with PFI experience, would be brought in to head the public sector commercial department, he said. Hughes' track record as a rainmaker and a strong manager were "areas in which the leadership of the PFI team has been lacking".
"As a worst case scenario," he wrote, "even if the public sector commercial department had no PFI work, Bevan Ashford would still remain a strong and vibrant firm."
He stressed "PFI work generates less than 10 per cent of the firm's annual turnover".
He praised staff for "a fantastic display of loyalty to the firm" and added "we have made positive inroads into meeting our billing targets for this month, which, if accomplished, will mean a PRP payout this spring".
Speaking to The Lawyer, Jarrett-Kerr said the departing partners had only been involved in 12 of the 46 PFI projects the firm was currently working on. Nobody else has resigned.
Fairbairn who has been at Bevans for 16 years refused to comment on his reasons for the move.
In May last year, Bevans lost corporate partner Paul Cooper with an associate to Bristol rival Osborne Clarke.
The firm is opening a London office at Chancery Lane on 5 May, headed by employment partner David Widdowson and staffed by another partner and seven full-time fee earners.
Warner Cranston partner Patricia Mitchell will also be joining the firm in May as head of commercial litigation in Bristol.