Simon Twigden clearly remembers the moment Addleshaw Booth & Co approached him with a view to joining its then recently formed London office.
“I was in the gardening centre,” he recalls, “with a Christmas tree in my hand, when Malcolm Pike [employment partner] phoned me up and said ‘come and talk to me’.”
Four months after that fateful phone call, Twigden left his position as reinsurance partner at Paisner & Co and in April – after just a month at Addleshaws – he took over the running of the London office from banking partner Mark Chidley.
The development of the London branch is proving to be fundamental to a major re-branding exercise Addleshaws is undergoing. These changes will make it a national firm competing against London-based practices.
Twigden says its eventual aim is to have three UK offices of equal size by early 2000. At present Addleshaws’ offices in Manchester and Leeds each have 48 partners, while four partners work from the London branch.
Twigden has already said that he wants to increase the number of partners in the office to 15 by next summer (The Lawyer, 13 September).
The London office as a whole, though, will continue to focus on Addleshaws’ core competencies – property, banking, finance and commercial.
But added to this list of areas is Addleshaws’ first foray into reinsurance, where Twigden used his expertise in the area to set up the practice.
Twigden says: “The challenge for me was that Addleshaws did not have a reinsurance practice. It was starting from ground zero and I was attracted by that.”
At this point Twigden is determined to develop the operation slowly. He believes it is imperative to build a strong team, right across the board.
“We are looking for very capable lawyers who are quite normal human beings and that, in a City law firm, does not always happen.”
In other words, Twigden has his work cut out. Some lawyers have voiced doubts that he will be able to achieve his aims at all.
One senior reinsurance partner at a rival firm is highly sceptical that Twigden will be able to establish a market-specific practice.
He claims: “[Twigden] is not one of the big heavyweights. Paisner was his first partnership so he has not got that type of experience.
“It depends on the team he can build. Has he got enough of a reputation to persuade people to join and get clients to take a punt on Addleshaws? It is a bit of a gamble.”
But Twigden is used to taking risks. Two years after qualifying at Freshfields he decided he should “stick his head above the parapet” and see what else was available.
He left the practice and joined Pan Atlantic Insurance in 1990, where he worked in its London office for two years before moving to the New York office, where he stayed for five years, before returning to Freshfields in 1997.
Commenting on his decision to leave in-house work behind him, Twigden explains: “It was a rollercoaster of a ride but it was time to get out.”
But he believes the seven years he spent out of private practice have put him in an ideal position for his current role. “My primary role [at Pan Atlantic] was as a lawyer but I also ran the operations in New York and Ireland and set up a company for them in London,” he says.
However, his re-entry to private practice was not smooth. Twigden now admits the decision to return to Freshfields was not a wise one.
“After the uncertainties of Pan Atlantic, I wanted to go back to an environment where I felt comfortable but I had moved on a lot by then, I had changed and the firm had changed,” he says.
He quit the top-five firm after a year to join Paisner & Co as an equity partner in reinsurance.
But again, after a year, he moved to Addleshaws.
Another reinsurance practitioner has concerns about Twigden’s job changes. “I am a little bit sceptical of people moving around a lot because you don’t (move) if things are working out,” he says.
But Twigden remains unfazed. The appeal of Addleshaws, he says, is that he is able to take on a more entrepreneurial role. He has also been on good terms with several Addleshaws partners for some time. His colleague Malcolm Pike is, for example, godfather to his eldest child.
Obviously Twigden has a clear-cut set of priorities: “My family will always come first. The second is building the reinsurance practice, which is going very well, and the third is building a practice in London which is part of Addleshaws.”
It is this steady approach that could stand him in good stead, despite the enormity of his task. As one of his fellow reinsurance lawyers concedes: “He’s a pretty shrewd guy.”
Head of London office
Addleshaw Booth & Co