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Personal injury arm breaks from corporate to join Australian mega-firm
Australian-listed personal injury (PI) firm Slater & Gordon has confirmed it is in talks with Manchester-based Pannone over a merger of its private client business after weeks of staying tight-lipped on the subject.
Despite disgruntled elements at Pannone leaking information on the plans to the press, Slaters took shelter behind its regulatory obligations to the market, saying: “As a publicly listed company if we had an announcement to make about a potential acquisition we would of course first make an announcement to the ASX.”
Meanwhile, Pannone released this rather unconvincing statement: “We will always look at opportunities which align with the firm’s strategic aims; however, there is nothing to report on this particular rumour.”
But the flow of information continued. Sources confirmed that a partner vote had got the 75 per cent majority needed to merge the firm’s private client side, but which parts of the firm would transfer and the fate of the corporate team were still undecided.Knowing there were all manner of juicy details to report, including a minor mutiny among partners who either did not want to transfer to Slaters or were miffed that they had not been asked to, Pannone managing partner Emma Holt put the firm on lockdown when it came to engaging with the press.
But why does Slaters want to break up Pannone?
Australian-listed Slaters entered the UK legal scene in January 2012, when it used the new Legal Services Act (LSA) to take over Russell Jones & Walker. As a publicly owned company, the firm would have been unable to do this prior to the LSA, which introduced alternative business structures to enable non-lawyer ownership of law firms. Slaters’ aim was to replicate its position in Australia and become the leading legal brand in the UK consumer market.
In May, it started to bulk up significantly, announcing the planned acquisitions of Simpson Millar, Goodmans Law and Taylor Vinters’ PI practice.
Then in August it announced the acquisition of London and Manchester-based Fentons, adding about 280 staff and an annual revenue of £27.7m. At this point Slaters looked unstoppable, so it was only a matter of time before Pannone was on the menu.
Pannone has serious pedigree in PI but it is a full-service firm and its corporate practice has not been invited to join Slaters, which focuses on consumer law. Pannone’s answer is to split the firm, with Holt taking consumer arms Affinity and Connect2Law to Slaters, and senior partner Steven Grant and regulatory and disputes head Paul Jonson opening a corporate boutique with what’s left.
The deal is now close to completion, with sign-off anticipated as Lawyer 2B went to press. The two new sides of Pannone are being nicknamed New Law and Barbie by insiders at the firm – do we really need to reveal which is which?