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Leading partner Hugo Stephens is quitting Irwin Mitchell for a new home at regional rival Pinsent Curtis.
Stephens and his five-strong team will join Pinsents' major projects group - one of the eight markets the national firm recently earmarked to become core practice areas.
The departures are a blow to Irwin Mitchell, one of the leading firms in the housing stock transfer markets, which is Stephens' specialist area. He is regarded as one of the most senior lawyers practising in this field.
Irwin Mitchell managing partner Howard Culley says the firm will continue working in the housing stock transfer markets, but Stephens claims the firm will not have a credible capability after the departures.
Stephens says: "There is no one else [at Irwin Mitchell] with any experience in stock transfer."
Stephens joined Irwin Mitchell three years ago and is credited with developing the firm's reputation. He advises 70 social housing companies and is currently in discussions about their future representation.
He says: "It is for clients to decide who they want as their lawyers. The clients I work for awarded instructions to Irwin Mitchell but on the basis that we would be doing the work."
Discussions are ongoing regarding a departure date although Stephens aims to be with Pinsents by mid-October.
Culley concedes that Pinsents will be a major competitor in the projects market. He says: "This is disappointing but our strategy for growth in doing transactions in the public sector is still in place."
Stephens says part of the reason for deciding to join Pinsents was its range of practice areas. "These are complex projects and bring into play a series of different types of lawyers - pensions, corporate, construction, employment and so on. The team will get much more access to that sort of advice at Pinsents," he says.
Pinsents is currently in the process of realigning its practice to focus on eight core groups such as financial institutions, insurance, property and public companies as well as major projects.