Regional focus: Liverpool
8 January 2014 | By Becky Waller-Davies
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Liverpool may no longer hold its European City of Culture crown but the regeneration of the city means that the legal market is better placed than ever to advise new North West ventures.
“There is certainly a very vibrant local corporate market,” Hill Dickinson managing partner Peter Jackson says. “Liverpool has all of the support services it needs for corporate deals: it has the private equity houses, the banks, the lawyers and the brokers. It is one of those marketplaces that does not need to go to London or Manchester.”
Hill Dickinson trainee Corinne Hough has had first hand experience of the Liverpudlian banking market.
“I did some work for Santander, which is one of the banking department’s biggest clients,” she says. “We were acting on behalf of Santander in loaning £6.5m to a company that was refinancing a property portfolio. They had 37 properties across the country, though the majority were in the North West.”
Fellow Hill Dickinson trainee Michael Murphy is currently sitting in his third seat, within the insolvency department. His work so far has encompassed defendant insurance work for multinational brands such as Tesco as well as dealing with child abuse cases, which he terms “interesting but very tough.”
Murphy’s enthusiasm for corporate work is clear. ‘I can’t speak highly enough of the team: they get really good work in and I felt really involved,” he says. “You got pulled in on a lot of deals, and you got to know your way around a deal. As well as knowing the technicalities and the legal points, you got to know the mechanics of it.”
“You got the impression that a lot of companies were doing deals - not just the bigger clients but everyone,” he recalls. “And not just because more money was becoming available, but because people were pushing ahead despite the state of the market.” Matters Murphy worked on included one for a client named BioEden, a North West stem cell storage company.
Weightmans trainee Gary Byrne also has experience of working on corporate deals for biomedical companies, due to the North West Fund for Biomedical, which provides finance to local businesses operating in that sector which are looking to grow.
“Prior to starting my training contract I worked as a paralegal in the corporate market,” he says. “One deal was for ESP Technology, which does advanced new materials technology in relation to medical complications such as kidney failure.
“It was interesting because, rather than it being a business that you were selling by way of transaction, it was more about a product that was being invested in.”
Weightmans Liverpool office head David Lewis believes that the IP sector represents a fledging area of work for the Liverpool legal services market.
For now, he cites leisure and retail work as some of the biggest earners for Weightmans’ commercial department.
“The city’s now one of the major weekend breaks in the country, and for good reason,” he explains. “There’s a lot to do in terms of art and culture and architecture and nights out. There are various factors meaning that lots of new hotel accommodation is being developed and that is driving a sense of confidence in the market.”
The growing confidence in the North West is reflected by the rapid expansion of regional powerhouse DWF. The firm’s revenue increased by 84 per cent in the last financial year as a by-product of organic growth and the acquisition of firms such as Cobbetts.
DWF trainee Joseph Welch is currently sitting in the firm’s in-house department, a new seat that involves doing a mix of corporate and commercial for the entire firm.
His previous seats have included working in the insurance department. “A lot of that work is local and the court is nearby,” he says. “It gives us an opportunity to go and get some advocacy experience too.”
DWF’s Liverpool corporate head Paul Rimmer acknowledges that the firm historically has a strong insurance practice and indicates the food and real estate sectors as other areas which provide a steady stream of work for the office.
He adds that he believes the Liverpudlian market is recovering slowly but surely from the worst of the recession.
“We shouldn’t get too excited - it is still taking a long time for deals to happen - but we are in a more optimistic place than we were last year,” he surmises. “The market’s showing some positive trends when compared with last year: there are some green shoots. It mirrors the national picture.”
At Weightmans, Lewis points to new developments within the city. “We have the new Mersey gateway, which will make it a lot easier to get in and out of the city from the South, and we have the super-port and all that the council is doing to turn us into a major destination for cruise liners,” he says.
“That’s giving a very positive vibe and this year we are hosting the International Festival for Business. I think you would probably find that most people in Liverpool would say that we are feeling more confident than we have for some time.”