Why would the partners at a firm that has seen nothing but major growth and record profit over the past few years suddenly decide to oust its senior partner?

Most struggles are about power, money or sex, and so far there’s no suggestion that the coup at Newcastle’s Watson Burton is anything to do with the latter. That’s probably something to be thankful for.

Yesterday (26 September), The Lawyer broke the news that Andrew Hoyle, the charismatic senior partner of Watson Burton, had been forced to quit the firm. The putsch was brutal. Hoyle is expected to be out of the door and on his Harley within days.

Hoyle has headed Watson Burton during the 40-partner firm’s high-octane period of expansion. In July this year the firm went where Newcastle rival Dickinson Dees feared to tread and opened an office in London.

Two years earlier it opened its first office outside its home market, making an audacious bid to compete in the Leeds market. And this year the investment appeared to pay off, with Watson Burton making its debut in The Lawyer UK 100 Annual Report with a record £22.9m turnover and an even more impressive average profit per equity partner of £712,000.

The latter may well be the source of Hoyle’s woes. The firm has just seven equity partners and Hoyle’s top of the equity cut last year of £850,000 will no doubt have ruffled a few feathers among the lower-profile partners and fee-earners.

But the same can be said of many firms that have a strong, high-profile leader who gets paid accordingly.

So far there’s no sign of Hoyle’s replacement coming forth with any equally bold statements of intent. In the wake of such a dramatic event, that hardly bodes well for the firm.

Unlike the Labour Party, Watson Burton does not appear to be furnished even with a Gordon Brown.

Matt Byrne, associate editor
The Lawyer