Bridge building to Bristol

Simmons & Simmons is not a firm you instantly associate with regional offices but in the last year headcount at its Bristol base has been rising fast.

Simmons’ most recent addition to the partner-led Bristol base is corporate partner Patrick Graves, who joined the firm from Osborne Clarke today.

With 17 years at OC focusing on corporate finance and equity capital markets under his belt, including a stint as head of the firm’s UK India group, Graves has been brought in to bolster the new Bristol-based corporate team.

He is the fourth lateral hire hired into the Bristol office so far this financial year. The others are Mahrie Webb, who added a funds capability when she joined from Burges Salmon on 6 May (29 May 2013), Hinal Patel introduced ITC and outsourcing to the Bristol offering when he joined from DLA Piper on 8 May and the corporate and commercial practice started with the hire of Jocelyn Ormond from DAC Beachcroft on 2 June.

It’s a pretty swift growth spurt, bringing the total headcount to 64; 34 fee-earners, of which nine are partners, and 30 support staff.

OC’s Bristol office has been a regular hunting ground for the firm over the past couple of years as Simmons seeks to build up with the best lawyers in the local market.

The first Bristol lateral hires came in the shape of financial services litigation duo Tim Boyce and Ed Crosse, who launched the office and split their time between London and Bristol.

Boyce was appointed to head up the office in March, once it was felt there was enough critical mass for it to need some centralised leadership.

His role ranges from the more mundane people management duties to taking responsibility for raising the profile of the office, both internally and in the local market.

“We need to integrate teams into London as consistently as possible and we want to support the overseas offices too, particularly inbound work into the UK,” Boyce says.

Simmons opened the Bristol base in September 2012 (30 May 2012) with the two new hires and existing Simmons people; real estate partner Iain Macfarlane and projects partner Richard Armitage. It concentrated initially on the firm’s core practices of real estate, projects and financial markets.

The stated intention at the time was to grow the office to between 15 to 20 lawyers, focusing on City and international work but with the benefit of operating from a lower-cost base.

The office has of course exceeded that number of lawyers to date. Boyce says a lot of the work being handled in Bristol is from existing key client and may be handled by a dual team across London and Bristol but, “a number of new transactions are being generated by the Bristol”, he says.

“Either by virtue of the new partners or by the fact that the Bristol office means we’re able to offer something different,” Boyce adds.

At the end of 2012, Simmons convinced former partner Helen Hancock, who had joined Burges Salmon as a consultant and the firm’s director of banking, to return in Bristol (27 September 2012).

In April 2013 the firm’s director of business transformation Abby Ewen, who had been credited with being one of the key drivers behind the launch, left to join BLM (formerly Berrymans Lace Mawer) as IT director (3 April 2012).

But this year the lateral hiring stepped up a gear. Simmons’ managing partner Jeremy Hoyland says there’s no final destination in mind at the moment in terms of numbers. It is more important, he says, for the new groups to establish themselves, and then they can grow from there.

“I’m keen to encourage all the London groups to consider Bristol,” he adds, emphasising that Simmons’ Bristol office is not a “back office” but a partner-led office through which high-value transactions will be handled.

The standard way of working is to run transactions across both offices, with one partner in London and one in Bristol, although Boyce says an increasing amount of work is being generated in Bristol.

“It gives us the flexibility to structure work in a different way,” he explains. Which is opening up arrange of price points and, hopefully, new work streams.

For more about how firms have launched similar offerings, see: Alternative workstyles