Maxwell Batley experienced mixed fortunes in 2003, but senior partner Raymond Levine is happy with the firm's overall performance in the last year. Levine was appointed senior partner of the niche property firm last July, just four days after the shock departure of his high-profile predecessor Michael Cassidy to DJ Freeman (now Kendall Freeman).
Levine argues that Cassidy's move has not held the firm back. “The departure last year of the senior partner was really not a problem for us. In fact, we've moved forward since his departure in a way that I frankly doubt we would've done if he'd still been here,” he says.
Shortly after Cassidy's exit, the firm revamped its management structure in order to make decision-making more effective. The five to six-strong management committee, which was made up largely of department heads, was streamlined to four members because the old committee was slow to make decisions as too many groups were represented on it. Levine says that the decision-making process is now unfettered by departmental interests.
He says: “It's become easier to take decisions by operating in a smaller group. I believe it has worked well and has received support from the partners.”
Last year, Maxwell Batley also successfully defended a $70m (£44.5m) High Court claim, which at the time posed a potentially serious financial threat to the 17-partner firm as its professional indemnity insurance cover was lower than the amount claimed. The claim was issued by employment consultancy and actuarial firm Watson Wyatt, which itself was being sued for $70m by Belgian telecommunications company and Maxwell Batley client Sita.
The client was suing Watson Wyatt for mishandling the creation of an employee share scheme, which resulted in Sita having to pay $58m (£36.9m) in social security charges. Levine says: “The claim was obviously a great nuisance. But it wasn't something we were losing sleep over.”
Levine adds that the litigation did not have any sort of detrimental effect on client relationships and points out that the claim was not brought by one of the firm's clients. “One of the most telling thing of all is that throughout the litigation they [Sita] continued to give us work,” he says.
Maxwell Batley's property department generates a little more than 50 per cent of the firm's turnover. But Levine argues that describing Maxwell Batley as a niche property firm disguises the firm's broader commercial strengths. He says that the firm also has a good corporate and commercial department, as well as strong employment and litigation practices, which have all improved their position during the past 12 months. The firm also serves private clients.
Among some of Maxwell Batley's leading property clients are Hermes and British Land, which have traditionally been close to Cassidy. The firm is currently advising British Land on the development of a retail park in Swindon.
Maxwell Batley also counts Land Securities Trillium as a client. The relationship between the two arose following the hire of former Freshfields property partner Rhodri Pazzi-Axworthy last year.
Levine expects turnover for the year ending 31 March 2003 to rise by around 10 per cent.