Harvey Ingram Owston
23 July 2001
The managing partner of Leicester firm Harvey Ingram Owston, Chris Finlay, proudly reveals that the firm is acting for the daughter-in-law of Max Silberberg, a renowned Polish art collector. "His art collection [of 240 well-known paintings] was appropriated by the Nazis," he says. "This client was the first to obtain restitution of a painting from the German government."
The regional firm was born from the merger of Harvey Ingram and Owstons in 1996. Since then, turnover has grown by 60 per cent to £8.25m, while personnel has increased by about a third. There are 90 lawyers, including 22 partners, and average profits per equity partner are about £130,000.
A recent boon for the firm was the hire of Margaret Davies from Edge Ellison following that firm's summer 2000 departure from Leicester. Davies brought her client Weetabix with her. Also on the books are Stead & Simpson, Vision Express, HP Foods and Samworth Brothers. Retail property, commercial litigation and company commercial are the dominant areas of this full-service firm.
The purchase of Oliver Group by private company Shoe Zone last year involved 288 separate properties. Shoe Zone chairman Michael Smith uses Harvey Ingram for most of its legal work. "We've used them for 21 years," he says. "Their main job at the moment is property work. We have a very large property portfolio, with 450 shops, so there are leases, lease renewals, freehold purchases and disposals." Shoe Zone also uses Bedford firm Palmers for its more routine property work.
Another client praised Harvey Ingram for much of its work, but conceded that it had to instruct a more specialist firm for banking and pensions issues. In this case the firm used was Biddle, before its merger with Pinsent Curtis.
Finlay was made a partner in 1990 and has been managing partner since April 2001, after Stephen Woolfe was elected senior partner. Simon Astill from Astill & Sons is joining as a corporate partner on 1 October to replace Martin Smith, who has left to specialise in telecommunications, media and technology work. Finlay was unable to say where Smith, who is abroad for the duration of his gardening leave, intends to go. The firm has also lost two property assistants to Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in the last three years.
Personal injury (PI) is growing in strength, and the firm has recovered £5m in two recent clinical negligence cases. PI partner Robert Rose is on the Law Society panel for clinical negligence.
The firm recently acted for individual investors in the £14.4m acquisition of Jones the Bootmaker from Church & Co and Prada and did the licensing on the £53m British National Space Centre.
Planning, too, is being targeted. David Wilson Homes is already a key client. "Another is pensions," says Finlay. "And we have a human resources consultancy led by non-legal consultant John Palmer."
Finlay admits that Leicester does not enjoy a glamorous reputation. It may be perceived by some as a less successful commercial centre than its Midlands counterparts. He maintains, though, that the city, and thus Harvey Ingram, will continue to compete.