Manchester-based Fox Brooks Marshall's recent announcement that it had advised Highland Gold on its £200m admission to AIM – the second-largest placing on the market to date – must have raised a few eyebrows in the City.
In fact, this was just the latest in a series of AIM deals undertaken by Fox Brooks in the mining sector, with a particular focus on Australia. It seems that the firm has carved out a comfortable niche for itself in this area. Of the 10 Australian mining companies listed on AIM, Fox Brooks has acted for five, and a further three admissions are planned for 2003.
This is immensely satisfying for senior partner Andrew Wright, who had to rebuild the firm from scratch after it split and was temporarily dissolved in January 1995. Four partners and nine associates defected to Manchester rivals Wacks Caller after what was described as a “clash of management styles”. Wright describes the experience as “traumatic”, but he and a handful of fellow partners vowed to rebuild the firm. They kept the name going and started afresh from new premises.
Wright does not come across as your typical lawyer. He describes himself as “an old-fashioned entrepreneur with a fear of rigid rules”. After the split, he and his colleagues made full use of their UK contacts to rebuild a corporate practice, with a focus on medium-sized owner-managed businesses with growth prospects.
Wright also saw an opportunity in the Australian mining sector. There were a number of companies that, although listed on the Australian stock exchange, were not large enough to raise funds easily in Australia. These companies began to look to London for funds and it was apparent that they would need UK advice in order to comply with the 1995 Public Offers of Securities Regulations.
Wright headed for Australia and spoke at a mining conference on the legal aspects of an AIM admission. The trip paid huge dividends as Fox Brooks became the firm of choice for Australian companies seeking an AIM listing and, in many cases, the listings have been followed by further instructions. Some companies, such as Goldmines of Sardinia, have gone on to redomicile in the UK.
Wright and his corporate colleagues have also lectured on the benefits of AIM in New Zealand and South Africa. The latter is a market Wright is especially excited about. “If South Africa remains stable it can be used as a base. There are a lot of deals to be done in Africa,” he says. The firm plans to open an office in Johannesburg this year.
Fox Brooks now has 10 partners – seven of which are salaried – and only five assistants. The firm plans to improve its leverage and is actively looking to recruit more assistants. Wright says that he is especially careful about recruiting “the right sort of people… people who we think would put up with this kind of law firm”. In light of the firm's recent history, it is easy to see why.
Although half of its partners are engaged in corporate work, Fox Brooks handles a range of other work, including commercial property and private client.
Wright says that the firm has been “very, very lucky. We don't really set targets…it's much less formal than that”. But he insists: “This is just the beginning. We have a real niche here. It can't go on like this. We'll have to get bigger.”