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Halliwell Landau is circling Andersen Legal Garretts' Manchester office as the firm continues to lose partners.
David Rogers, a partner in construction litigation, is understood to be joining Halliwells while senior manager John Cleaveley, his number two, is moving in-house to national construction group John Mowlem & Co.
The losses are a blow to Garretts. It has sustained not only an exodus of staff when a large number left for Addleshaw Booth & Co, including Leeds senior partner and former Northern managing partner Sean Lippell, but the move of its Leeds office to DLA (The Lawyer, 13 November).
Halliwells' appointment of Rogers is the second time in just over a year that it has picked up a partner from Garretts' Manchester office, after its Northern head of banking Sue Molloy left for the rival practice.
It is understood that Rogers and Cleaveley approached Halliwells about the prospect of moving to the firm. Sources close to Halliwells suggest that it would hire the majority of the remaining five partners: litigation partner Peter Southeran, public finance initiative and projects partner Hamid Yunis, competition partner Phil McDonnell and employment partner Paula Cole.
DLA also considered making offers to Garretts' Manchester partners, but eventually rejected the idea.
One source close to the firm says that in the financial year from September 1999 to August 2000, the Manchester office accumulated £4.5m in gross fees. He says this indicates that the firm just about broke even for that year.
Tim Hamilton, Manchester managing partner at Garretts, says that contrary to speculation that the branch is encountering difficulties, he is "more than happy with the profitability and performance of the office".
He claims that the firm is already on target for this financial year and he expects to exceed this by 30 per cent.
The departures of Rogers and Cleaveley effectively means the end of the firm's construction department. However, it is understood that it was not one of the main focuses for the office. While Hamilton refused to acknowledge Rogers' departure, since he had not received a formal resignation from him, he says that the firm has no plans to replace Cleaveley.
Industry sources state that the number of lawyers left in the Manchester office falls short of the plans that Garretts had when it opened in the region five years ago.
One source says the firm predicted that there would be 200-300 lawyers split between the Manchester and Leeds offices in five years time. However, while Leeds has changed hands to DLA, the Manchester office holds just five partners, excluding Rogers and a total of 40 fee-earners.