The midlands

Putsmans and Shakespeares have signed a merger agreement, creating a new £20m player in the already crowded Birmingham mid-market.

Putsmans and Shakespeares join forces

Putsmans and Shakespeares have signed a merger agreement, creating a new £20m player in the already crowded Birmingham mid-market.

The combined firm, which will have more than 50 partners, will be effective from April 2007. The two firms have not yet confirmed the name of the combined entity, although Putsmans chairman Terry Lipscombe says it will be “some combination of the two names, depending on what sounds best phonetically”. Putsmans chief executive Paul Wilson, who joined in July from Olswang, will be the merged firm’s chief executive. Its managing and senior partners have not yet been finalised, although Lipscombe and Shakespeares senior partner Michael Hibbs are both likely to retain senior roles.

Lipscombe explains: “The Birmingham mid-market has changed a lot in recent years, with many new firms competing. We want to have the size and strength to be able to compete and offer excellent terms.

“Also, in these days of uncertainty about deregulation, a £20m firm can survive better than two £10m firms.”

Lipscombe observes that the two firms have similar practice areas and that the combined entity would continue to focus on private client work and services for the small and medium-sized enterprise market. Its staff will integrate into the single site presently occupied by Shakespeares.

The merger is the second for Putsmans in five years, after its tie-up with Wilcox Lane Clutterbuck in October 2001. That merger made Putsmans a 21-partner firm with a turnover of £10m.

Mills & Reeve in management reshuffle
New managing and senior partners were confirmed at Mills & Reeve. The firm announced that Birmingham managing partner Guy Hinchley will take over as firm managing partner from the incumbent Mark Jeffries in March 2007, while Jeffries, who has been managing partner since 2001, will replace Jonathan Barclay as senior partner after Barclay retires.

The firm is also drafting a new strategic plan to coincide with the handovers. Hinchley explained: “We’re discussing issues including the scale we want the firm to be and the extent to which we should be investing in our existing locations. We’re also looking at the markets we’re in and whether we want to be in any new ones and having discussions about geography.”

Wragges prioritises local govt growth…
The Lawyer also revealed that Birmingham giant Wragge & Co was embarking on a strategic shift. It is aiming to boost its public sector group to account for 25 per cent of total firm revenue.

It is a radical move for a firm that once sought to be “the Slaughter and May of the regions”. If it achieves its goal, Wragges’ public sector group will challenge the firm’s property team for dominance, which currently accounts for 27 per cent of the firm’s total £101.3m turnover, and is its biggest practice.

The head of Wragges’ local government group Mark Greenburgh explains: “Public sector clients are dependable, punctual payers; the work’s counter-cyclical and there’s more and more of it.”

As part of the strategy, the firm is seeking to double the local government group’s turnover from its present £5.5m to £10m by 2010.

The firm’s public sector group currently accounts for between 15 and 18 per cent of total revenue.

Wragges has also recruited Claer Lloyd-Jones, the former director of law and democratic services at the London Borough of Hackney as a part-time consultant on strategy and training.

Lloyd-Jones works at Rockpools, the specialist consultant and recruiter, which boasts Nick Raynsford MP, former Minister of State for Local Government and the Regions, as a non-executive director.

Wragges also employs Sir Michael Lyons, who is currently preparing the Government’s report into local government, as a non-executive director.

Greenburgh and regeneration head Stephen Sellers were two of the six associates promoted to the partnership this financial year.

In July 2003 Greenburgh was also appointed to the advisory panel for ‘Beacon Councils’, the Government scheme to highlight top-performing local authorities.

…as mid-year budget is met
More imminently, Wragges revealed that it is on budget at the financial mid-year point.

Managing partner Quentin Poole confirms an increase in turnover of 9.4 per cent, meaning the firm is on course to record a turnover of between £110m and £112m at the financial year-end.

Poole continues: “Profit will be up [at the financial year-end] as well, but this is more difficult to calculate as we have to allocate overheads. But total profit has already increased by between 5 and 10 per cent.”

Poole attributes the growth to solid performances across the board rather than to any particular practice group and highlights Wragges’ focus on winning “bigger deals from bigger organisations”.

He adds that the firm is also on track to reach its target of growing the public sector group’s revenue target.

“Five years ago turnover for the group was 3-4 per cent – now it’s 15 per cent, and growing,” he explains.

Significant public sector client wins for the firm in the past two years have included the Department of Health, the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Trade & Industry.