Brief encounter: Manches, oxford

Manches' Oxford office is thriving. Its primary service to specialist clients in the biotechnology and technology sectors seems to be paying off. But whether the firm can achieve sustained growth on the back of Oxford's thriving property market and the buoyancy of the technology and biotechnology sectors is another matter.

Through expansion, Manches believes that it can. The firm is keen not to dismiss the idea of further consolidation after the merger with five-partner firm Morrell Peel & Gamlen in 1987. It is negotiating a move to a single site occupying more than 40,000sq ft, which is more than double the existing space. This would enable the firm to house its target of 165 staff under one roof. The Oxford office (there is another office in London) has 45 lawyers, including 11 equity partners and six salaried partners.

Such ambitious plans are not surprising given that Manches posted a 31 per cent growth in fee income on 1999. Fee income for 2000 stands at £6.7m, up from £2.3m in 1996.

The four biggest departments in Manches' Oxford office are intellectual property (IP) and IT (which in 2000 contributed 24 per cent of all fee income), corporate finance (contributing 22 per cent of fee income), property (19 per cent) and litigation (13 per cent). Regional firms have benefited from the cost savings they can offer clients compared to their London rivals and Manches is no different.

Manches claims to have a larger IP and IT department than any other Oxford law firm. It also claims to act for more than half of the companies that have spun out of Oxford University since the early 1990s. Manches acted for technology company Staffware when it floated on AIM and also during its transfer to the main market listing with a market capitalisation of £350m.

Head of the Oxford office and the corporate department Peter Angel believes his firm has also stolen a march on its rivals in the biotechnology sector. It recently picked up geonomics company Oxagen as a client when it acted on the raising of £31.75m for future developments. Angel says: "All biotech companies have a high demand for legal services from the outset and throughout."

The firm is busy focusing on corporate finance in the biotechnology and IT sectors but recognises that the initial public offering (IPO) market may be heading for a slowdown during the next 12 months. A downturn could also affect growth at the Oxford office of key competitor Brobeck Hale and Dorr, which has a significant concentration of technology work and handled 18 IPOs last year. But Brobeck has a much more diverse practice – for example, it acted in more than 55 venture capital deals last year and has built a solid corporate M&A practice. Manches recognises that it requires a similarly broad base to sustain its rate of growth.