MDP in action

When Simpson Curtis lost five partners and five associates to Garrett & Co's new firm within Arthur Andersen, the Leeds legal community took notice.

Many of Simpson's competitors did not know whether to be pleased at the firm's difficulties or concerned for the future. The practice is sanguine, with the official attitude being, as marketing director David Grimson says: “I don't think we're going to lose too much sleep over it.”

But what will be the effect on the practice? The firm itself lists multi-disciplinary practices (MDPs) as a major issue for the future in answer to The Lawyer's survey.

Off (and on) the record fellow Leeds practitioners think it has seriously affected the 'Slaughter and May of the north'. But one firm's senior partner says it may actually be the best thing to happen to the firm. “This may be the shock to the system that it needs in order to move forwards,” he says.

The feeling across the city is that losing heavy hitters damaged the firm's position in the short term. There are also reports of an equity structure re-jig at Simpsons following the split. But, within the firm, the message is that the leavers wanted to go and Simpson Curtis is doing perfectly well.

Garrett & Co head Colin Garrett has said he was presented with 10 lawyers looking to move and was not looking at Leeds in particular. So, chance has joined Leeds with Reading in the brave new world of MDPs.

The wider implications are more important for the profession and are the subject of much theorising by commercial lawyers. Andersens is a subject of criticism.

“If you really do want to create the largest law firm in Europe don't try to do it all at once,” says one

Walker Morris partner Peter Smart (one of the few partners to talk attributably on the subject) says the move towards MDPs across Europe should not be replicated in the UK's very different legal market. “If you look at the law firms of accountants in France they do not attract the best work. A lot of it is of a low grade sort,” he says.

But he adds that complacency may be the worst option: “I don't think, however, one should be dismissive of it. They have recruited some good lawyers.”

Leeds lawyers are waiting to see what happens. Says one partner from a medium-sized firm: “I think it's going to make life harder for the very big firms.”

Another observes that it could have a knock-on effect for national firms. “If Andersens gets into it in a serious way, then the major accountancy firms will follw that example. If that happens then I think there will be pressure within major city law firms to go national,” he says. “Dibb Lupton Broomhead will be irrelevant then.”