Osborne Clarke raids Clarke Willmott again

Osborne Clarke has raided Clarke Willmott for its fourth property partner in a week, bagging head of strategic land development Elizabeth Sturgess.

Sturgess joins the rival Bristol-based firm just three months after moving across from an in-house role as head of the legal team at developer Westbury Homes.

She follows the defection last week of a four-lawyer residential property team headed by partner David Powell (reported on www.thelawyer.com 4 October).

As Sturgess’ move is within a six-month probation period at Clarke Willmott, she will begin practising with the new firm at the beginning of November.

However, her move is likely to dash Osborne Clarke’s hopes of striking a deal to reduce the six-month period of gardening leave for the departed residential property team, comprising partners Powell, Jamie Kyd and Karen Wallis, plus associate Michelle McGurl.

Osborne Clarke’s managing partner Simon Beswick said: “We have had no contact with [Clarke Willmott] so we will just have to proceed with our own plans. But we still believe it is in the best interests of our clients to enter into talks.”

But Clarke Willmott managing partner David Sedgwick said: “The [gardening leave] provision is in there to protect the firm, and there is nothing to suggest we would want to alter it.”

The departures are a setback to Clarke Willmott’s real estate ambitions, following a sustained period of aggressive expansion.

Fourteen of the firm’s total 25 lateral hires during the last three financial years have been in the property group. A further two specialists were promoted to the partnership over the same period.

More recently, the firm’s Birmingham real estate team snared the hire of Hammonds property finance director Jane Kemp (www.thelawyer.com 15 September).