DLA forces Garretts into Leeds surrender

Thirty-one Garretts fee-earnersmoveto DL; Williams defends Andersen’s regional strategy

DLA is taking on the whole of Andersen Legal firm Garretts’ Leeds practice, with the exception of two litigation lawyers, a tax lawyer and a support lawyer.

The news follows speculation that Garretts was to close its loss-making Leeds practice (The Lawyer, 23 October).

The team of 31 fee-earners joining DLA includes commercial and technology partner Richard Bonnar, transport partner Nick Painter and real estate partner Tim Field. Those joining DLA are to get a “golden hello”, which is roughly equivalent to what they would have received in redundancy payouts from Garretts.

DLA’s Leeds managing partner Neil McLean is delighted with the move. He says: “We are acquiring a very good group of skills, which we need. Those people amalgamating with ours will be profitable and will generate a good level of return to the practice.”

Garretts’ worldwide managing partner Tony Williams admits that the Leeds operation has been having difficulties for some time. “We sat down with the partners in Leeds to identify the best way to meet the business and financial criteria,” he says. “As a result, we authorised discussions with other firms to explore the transfer of the whole business. The possibility of a DLA transaction arose three or four weeks ago.”

However, sources claim it is unlikely that Garretts’ Leeds office decided to close itself down. One points out that Garretts took on real estate partner Tim Field only five weeks ago. “So they can’t have been thinking about closing then,” he adds. It is believed that DLA approached Bonnar when it heard he was in talks with Eversheds. Eversheds has declined to comment.

After initial talks with Bonnar, it became clear that the transfer of most of the department was a possibility.

In the last 16 months, Sean Lippell, Andrew Kay, Simon Pilling, Dean Copley, Paula Dillon and Frank Suttie have all left Garretts to join Addleshaw Booth & Co. Roland Todd has joined DLA and Nick Sleath joined local law firm Blacks.

One former Garretts partner says: “If the office is loss-making, it wouldn’t take too much to rejig the resources to copy one of the profitmaking organisations.”

Garretts has been plagued with problems since it backed out of a merger deal with Wilde Sapte in 1998. At the beginning of 1999 the Leeds office had 11 partners compared with just five at present.

Mark Jones, managing partner at Addleshaws, says: “The Leeds market is highly competitive,” he says. “Prising clients away from established relationships, then, is not an easy task. Given the facts of our ability to recruit six partners [from Garretts] it seems that individuals are taking decisions in the context of their own aspirations.”

Williams denies that Garretts’ other regional offices in Manchester, Cambridge, Reading and Birmingham are facing problems. “We’re happy with our other offices, all of which are operating in accordance with Garretts’ strategy,” he says.

Litigation partner David Harlock is not joining DLA. He worked at Alsop Wilkinson, now part of DLA, prior to joining Garretts in 1996. Tax partner Anthony Betts’ plans are unknown.

DLA managing partner Nigel Knowles says: “This acquisition is immediately profit-making and takes us further towards becoming a top 10 City firm as well as being a dominant regional firm.”