The North West

The end for James Chapman & Co
There has been speculation for ages about the fate of James Chapman & Co.

The long-established Manchester firm had a nice line in insurance work, but suffered after being dropped from the Axa panel in 2004. Work coming from the Solicitors Indemnity Fund (SIF) had also been dropping off steadily since it was put into run-off in 2000, although James Chapman remains on the panel.

The firm’s name was linked to other North West players. Some sources said it was in talks with Bolton-based Keoghs, for instance. But nobody ever mentioned negotiations with the region’s most acquisitive player, Halliwells.

That was probably because the two firms were only in talks for six weeks. The whirlwind courtship led to an announcement at the end of March that Halliwells is taking on the bulk of James Chapman’s lawyers and staff, including its core insurance business. However, the headline-grabbing commercial team, led by Manchester United FC director Maurice Watkins, is not joining Halliwells. Instead, Watkins is leading a group of 19 to regional stalwart Brabners Chaffe Street.

As mergers go, this one is pretty significant. Halliwells is picking up around £10m in business, and should be making more than £70m by the end of the next financial year. That is a big jump from the £17.5m it brought in during 1999.

It is also a good move for Brabners. The firm has a solid reputation in Liverpool and Manchester, where it handles small to mid-sized corporate and commercial deals and litigation. Having someone like Watkins on board will help boost the firm’s profile as well as adding £2m to turnover – 10 per cent of this year’s expected £20m income.

As ever with mergers, the key will be integration. Halliwells’ insurance team is still fairly small, and adding the James Chapman team means a huge leap in that area. The firm is keeping the James Chapman branding in recognition of the team’s reputation, but in reality James Chapman’s century-long history is now at an end, subsumed into the rapidly growing Halliwells empire.

Pinsents restores a little parity
Pinsent Masons‘ Manchester corporate team has been under attack during the past few months. First Cobbetts got its claws in, taking corporate head Sean Fitzgerald in January, followed by corporate partner Paul Johnson and three other lawyers in March.

Eversheds was next to strike. The firm hired a team of five – partners Simon Masters and Hannah Kendrick, plus one associate and two assistants – denting Pinsents’ capability further.

Pinsents is, however, awaiting the arrival of Eversheds partner Helen Ridge, whose move was announced in November. Ridge was hired together with Eversheds associate Howard Gill, who has already moved across the way to Pinsents’ Barbirolli Square office as a partner.

The hires did still leave Eversheds three lawyers in credit. But Pinsents, not content with sitting back and seeing its corporate department walk out the door, hit back across the Pennines with a raid on Eversheds’ Leeds pensions team. Partner Jacqui Timmins ;and senior associate Anthea Whitton resigned first, and Eversheds was content to let them go. But the threat of losing a further six solicitors to Pinsents spurred Eversheds into action, prompting it to move partners to Leeds and to reinforce its commitment to the Leeds pensions market.

At the time of writing, however, the six appear to still be leaving Eversheds. This round of the northern war seems to have gone to Pinsents.

Hill Dickinson staff made up
The annual round of partner promotions has begun, with Hill Dickinson the first North West firm to announce its new partners.

It has been a good year for the firm’s associates, with nine becoming partners and an additional five junior partners joining Hill Dickinson’s equity. That is a huge increase on 2005, which saw just three internal promotions to the partnership.

The firm’s promotions are all, bar one, in Liverpool and Manchester, spread across the firm’s core practice areas. Manchester gets three new partners and two new equity partners, while Liverpool picks up six partners and two equity partners. London-based salaried partner Jamie Monck-Mason also joins the equity.

Hill Dickinson’s promotions maintain the firm’s tradition in making people up. Liverpool has picked up a total of 19 new partners in the past three years, compared with 12 in Manchester and nine in London. Insurance is consistently the most popular department for new partners, showing a commendable dedication to Hill Dickinson’s roots.

Meanwhile, Hammonds has announced its promotions, making up two partners in Manchester – one in the employment team and one in finance. Manchester, despite being a stable and profitable office for Hammonds, has never done as well in the promotion rounds as the firm’s other bases, and has gained just nine partners organically in the past four years.

It’s a grin up North
It is official: Pannone is the best law firm in the country to work for. The firm came third in this year’s The Sunday TimesBest Companies To Work For’ list, behind Gore-Tex manufacturer WL Gore and the Sandwell Community Caring Trust. Pannone was praised for staff satisfaction and the firm’s indomitable managing partner Joy Kingsley got plaudits for her leadership skills.

The firm also did well in The Lawyer‘s inaugural Careers Report. Pannone has the highest proportion of female partners and female equity partners of the top 100 law firms (both at 39 per cent) and actively encourages flexible working to keep them there.

Brabners was the other North West representative on The Sunday Times‘ list, coming in at 90th with excellent job satisfaction ratings and a staff turnover rate of just 7 per cent. Good news for the team arriving from James Chapman, then.

Another firm doing its bit for its staff is Halliwells, but in a slightly different way. News that Halliwells had been awarded £45,000 from Sport England to fund a fitness drive for employees was greeted in Manchester with amusement from rival firms and outrage from the public. Readers of the Manchester Evening News commented with horror. “If this report is true, then it’s an absolute scandal,” said one. “Life never changes: those who have get more, while those who have not get sod all!” remarked another.

Halliwells reacted somewhat defensively, pointing out that it has to match Sport England’s Lottery funding with £45,000 of its own, and that the scheme is devised by the Government. The money will go towards gym membership and fitness seminars for nearly 200 staff members.