Brief Encounter: Wacks Caller

Wacks Caller likes playing with the big boys and rapid growth shows it can

Wacks Caller is one of a number of mid-tier North West firms for which the phrase 'punches above its weight' could have been coined. The Manchester firm has only 16 partners, all based in its city centre offices, making it a minnow alongside regional heavyweights Addleshaw Booth & Co, DLA and Eversheds. Nevertheless, it advises clients regularly and works on deals that may traditionally have been the preserve of the larger firms.
Senior and managing partner Martin Caller says: “The reasons for this are twofold. First, the firm has grown by recruiting high-quality lawyers, often from national practices. Second, we've made a deliberate decision to restrict ourselves to offering high-added-value transactions and have avoided getting involved in anything that is not consistent with the firm's core business.”
Founded in 1986 by Caller and Arran Wacks, the firm has a successful record of attracting key partners from larger rivals. Caller himself is a former partner of Manchester firm Linder Myers, while Wacks, now a consultant, came from Halliwell Landau via his own firm Wacks & Co. But until the late 1990s, the firm's growth, rather than spectacular, was steady and almost wholly organic.
One of the first high-profile recruits was Michael Kennedy, who joined the commercial litigation department from Eversheds in 1996. Real intent was signalled, however, with the arrival of Kit Sorrell from Davies Wallis Foyster in January 2000. Sorrell became head of commercial litigation and brought his client base with him, along with assistant solicitor (now associate partner) Anna Duffy. His arrival coincided with an almost 400 per cent increase in business and a 40 per cent increase in turnover. Sorrell and Duffy brought the total number of new recruits to the litigation department to 10 in 12 months, and with four partners and 10 assistants, commercial litigation now makes up around a third of the firm.
Wacks Caller's powerhouse is its corporate finance team and it is mainly on this that its reputation was built. Led by Kevin Philbin, the team comprises eight partners and four assistants, making it one of the largest corporate finance teams in the North West, including national and regional firms.
The team was strengthened further with the appointment of Andrew Smithson, formerly a corporate partner at Hill Dickinson, in November 2000. Smithson advised on the high-profile sale of Phone People to Manchester-based millionaire Mike Bahbout's Stablestock for £3m in July, which was four months after Phone People had gone into administration and 12 months after it was the subject of a £30m takeover bid.
Other notable deals include: the £400,000 investment by regular client Axiomlab into Image Metrics, where the firm faced Halliwell Landau across the table; the £3.9m acquisition of Tera Group Oy by regular client Oxygen Holdings; and the sale of Cheshire Life to Orient Publishing, with Eversheds acting for the buyer.
Two more former Hill Dickinson recruits are Elizabeth Mackay (formerly head of commercial property in its Liverpool office), who joined Wacks Caller last summer and now works alongside former Clifford Chance man Robert Harris, and Paul Stedman, a partner in the em-ployment team.
Last year saw the firm achieve a 34 per cent growth in turnover and a 27 per cent growth in profits. This year the target is a slightly more modest 25 per cent growth in turnover. Caller claims: “So far we're ahead of plan.”