Midlands firms go their own way

Law firms keep region’s proud tradition of ingenuity alive

Innovation in the Midlands is nothing new: Birmingham was once known as ‘the city of a thousand trades’ and the region’s law firms seem to have grasped the entrepreneurial spirit.

Whereas mid-market firms are facing merge-or-submerge dilemmas, those in the Midlands see opportunities for growth by snapping up rivals. Mergers are motivated by improving geographic strength, adding practices, or both.

The strategy has been mastered by Shakespeares, the area’s second-largest firm behind Wragge & Co. It says 2013 will see a “high calibre” recruitment drive for around 15 lawyers following its fifth merger in just two years, with Harvey Ingram in 2012.

With what the firm sees as a dominant Midlands presence, CEO Paul Wilson has hinted at another merger before 2014 to hit the magic £50m turnover mark.

Also stealing a march is Nelsons Solicitors, which last week took over Derby’s Bakewells to create a £15m firm. Nelsons says the acquisition strengthens its offering in property, private client and commercial litigation. After snapping up volume personal injury solicitors Advance Legal in 2011, chief executive Tim Hastings is now aiming for a merger partner in Leicester.

Like a little brother wearing big brother’s trendy clothes, imitation is the purest form of flattery – and Shakespeares can claim to be the larger sibling, but rampant merger activity and regional swell is not the only option among Midlands firms.

Over at £10m Knights Solicitors, alternative business structure conversion and investment from Hamilton Bradshaw makes it the first UK commercial law firm to raise private capital. According to managing partner David Beech, this means pulling off lateral partner hires such as real estate duo Amanda Hanmore and Christopher Howdle, who have been attracted from SGH Martineau and LSG Solicitors respectively, on its ambitious path to doubling turnover in three years.

Beech says he wants the firm to be “at the forefront of change”. It appears several of his neighbours share his dream.

Sam Chadderton