Clarke Willmott & Clarke has won a reappointment to the National Farmers' Union (NFU) panel after Bond Pearce withdrew from the scheme over a clash with its work for agricultural lenders.
Clarke Willmott was dropped by the NFU in 1999, when a panel of around 60 firms was replaced by just nine. The panel functions as a referral system, with law firms taking cases through a call centre that gives first-level advice. Bond Pearce has now withdrawn because the role no longer fits with its business strategy. An agricultural lawyer at another firm said: "It's difficult to work on repossession work for banks one day and then go in and be the farmer's friend the next. You have to really be close to farmers, otherwise you don't have their confidence." Bond Pearce partner Andrew Tobey said: "We're increasingly finding that conflicts are arising with the many commercial lenders in the agricultural sector for whom we act, as well as other large commercial organisations in the agricultural sector, such as machinery suppliers." Clarke Willmott was previously on the panel for Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset, sharing the role with other firms. The regional divisions were changed at the time of the repanelling and Clarke Willmott is now the main legal representative for Devon and Cornwall, beating off competition from four other firms. Partner Tim Russ is taking a key role in the relationship. Bond Pearce is the second firm to pull out of the new panel following Brachers' withdrawal as South East adviser in September, because the referral work did not fit in with its profile (The Lawyer, 17 September). NFU head of legal Colin Hall said: "It's a two-way contract. Either party can pull out with notice at any stage. Bond Pearce felt it wanted to do something different."