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West End firm Howard Kennedy will gain an extra £25,000 in fees after becoming the first London firm to take the potentially risky role of sponsor as well as legal adviser on the launch of a venture capital trust (VCT).
The new VCT, called Elderstreet Downing VCT, is listed on the London Stock Exchange. It has raised £15m for investment in small, unquoted companies, of which, on top of its legal fees, Howard Kennedy will take the maximum £25,000 sponsor's fee allowed under its contract with Elderstreet.
Keith Lassman, corporate finance partner at Howard Kennedy, heralded the launch as an example of the increasing opportunities for solicitors in a field dominated up until now by larger financial institutions.
He said his firm was about to announce a second VCT, under the name of Pennine, which would specialise in investing in shares on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM).
But some lawyers think taking on the role of sponsor as well as solicitor to listings is inherently risky because the firm is staking its reputation on the new company.
In August 1996, East Anglian firm Mills & Reeve was forced to issue a supplementary prospectus when the launch of an Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) it was sponsoring came under fire. Since then it has not launched another venture and has no plans to do so.
But it is understood that Mills & Reeve hired a corporate financier for the transaction, whereas Howard Kennedy's own lawyers did all the due diligence work including on the investment managers themselves and liaised directly with the Stock Exchange.
Birmingham firm Martineau Johnson sponsored Foresight Technology VCT last September.