SJ Berwin forced to shut down its six lawyer PFI unit

SJ Berwin & Co has closed its PFI projects team with the loss of at least five fee earners.

The firm's “strategic decision” to close the unit, which was established three years ago, was revealed last week following the departure of associate Mark Johnson to City firm Devonshires along with assistant Paul Buckland and trainee solicitor Rose Murphy.

Assistant Rebecca Ford moved to Clifford Chance in June and Grant Parker is going to Berwin Leighton.

Partner Geoff Haley, who headed the unit, is still with the firm.

SJ Berwin senior partner David Harrell said the firm had decided to absorb the firm's PFI work into its existing banking and corporate groups.

He acknowledged that this meant the firm would be concentrating on working with clients who were financing PFI deals, rather than the consortia carrying out PFI work.

“That's not to say that we will do less PFI work – the corporate and banking groups are doing a great deal of PFI work at the moment,” he said.

Johnson, Buckland and Murphy, who specialised in transport and hospital work, are hoping to join Devonshires' private finance and public services group on 18 September.

The group is headed by partner Duncan Brown, and currently has two partners and three assistants. Brown said that Johnson had approached his firm and the trio represented a natural “bolt-on to expand and develop the work which this firm has been doing in the public sector generally”.

Johnson said that he had approached a number of firms, and that “the move generally fits in well with Devonshires' strategy and practice.”

He added that he would be taking clients to Devonshires.