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Strategy shift as Birmingham firm hires property star; other practice areas to follow
In a shock move, Wragge & Co has hired leading Herbert Smith property partner Gerald Bland to launch a London real estate practice. The new venture is the first clear signal of a U-turn in Wragges' Birmingham-centric strategy and the firm's first foray into the London market since acquiring five-partner patents firm Needham & Grant in 2000. The high-profile hire of Bland is the start of an aggressive plan to win work from the City's top-tier investors, developers and property companies, which would otherwise flow to London firms. A recruitment drive for assistants is planned, but leverage will be kept much lower than in Birmingham as the business plan hinges on using the London office to push work back to a lower cost base. The plan will see Bland take on an ambassadorial role as national chairman of the Wragge & Co property group from August. The arrival of such a well-respected industry player with a portable client base to spearhead the London strategy is a major coup for Wragges. Bland trained at Herbert Smith and has been a partner there since 1980, heading the real estate practice from 1991 to 1998. His clients include ABF, BHP Billiton, Daily Mail, Standard Life, Carisbrooke and Delta. Bland said: "I've achieved all that a real estate lawyer can achieve at Herbert Smith. This is a great opportunity to build something in London. It's just a very exciting prospect." Wragges' managing partner Quentin Poole claimed that the property launch is not the start of a plan to go full-service in London, but other niche areas such as employment and technology were a possibility. "We might have a look at private equity," he said. The London move will raise Wragges' profile as a prospective merger partner. Poole said: "We're not doing this because we're soliciting merger partners, but in five years time, "I don't know if it will be in our interest to seek a merger with a US firm, or an accountancy firm, or so on."