ONE of the country's biggest names in family law has been forced to call in insolvency practitioners after running up debts of nearly £1.2 million.
A creditors' report shows that High Wycombe-based Winter-Taylors owes 10 former partners a total of £128,000 and barristers more than £31,000.
Insolvency practitioners have been called in to rescue the long-established partnership following several years of severe financial difficulties.
They have drawn up a rescue deal which involves a voluntary arrangement and a merger with neighbouring Home Counties firm Kidd Rapinet.
More than 150 creditors were invited to a meeting on Wednesday this week where insolvency expert and nominee Neil Geddes was due to ask them to approve the proposals.
Winter-Taylors - ninth in The Lawyer's survey of family law departments last year - is believed by insiders to have struggled because it tried to expand when the market was depressed.
Stephen Finn, Kidd Rapinet's Wycombe partner, said: "The firm has been run well and efficiently. The problem has been that the weight of debt on top of it means it has not been able to generate profit."
The rescue involves Kidds paying £390,000 for its merger partner. Twenty-four Winters staff have been made redundant, including several fee-earners and some articled clerks who will not be retained after qualifying in September.
Winter-Taylors' five equity partners will become salaried staff under the proposals. Last year, eight salaried partners agreed to become associates.
Some creditors - among them local tradesmen - are said to be angry about losing money to an old firm whose trust was deemed beyond question.
"They feel let down," said one creditor. "Everyone knows that the legal profession has suffered difficult times, but other firms have managed to ride it out."
Other creditors include the Solicitors' Indemnity Fund, owed £65,000, the Law Society, £235, and barristers Philip Marshall of 1 King's Bench Walk, £5,493, and Camilla De Sousa Turner, of 2 Harcourt Buildings, £1,499.
The rescue plan was designed under the new Insolvent Partnerships Order and if backed, would produce the first large merger in High Wycombe.
Geddes, a practitioner with Levy Gee, will offer unsecured creditors about 10p in the pound. At least three-quarters of creditors must back the plans for them to be established.
Andy Kidd, senior partner with Kidd Rapinet, said the merged practice would operate from the firms' existing offices. Clients would not suffer.
Finn added: "I am confident that the joining together is a first but very large step in the right direction."