With a potential merger on the cards, Read Hind is setting its sights on the big time

Read Hind Stewart, the firm in talks with Manchester practice Cobbetts, is one of the smaller firms operating in the Leeds market. With 17 partners, its turnover last year was just £4.4m. However, it is handling some transactions that are expected to push the turnover up to around £5m for the year ahead.
Managing partner David Hymas says: “We act for Austin Reed and disposed of its Brompton Road site, next to Harrods. We also act for Leeds Rugby League and completed the transfer of Lestyn Harris to Rugby Union in Cardiff for more than £750,000. That's a record for Rugby League. Corporate have been involved in the disposal of Voyager Internet for in excess of $70m (£48.55m) and in advising on the securitisation of a Boeing jet aircraft.”
Other clients include Bradford Metropolitan District Council and local developer Caddick Developments, which is operating a joint venture with Akeler Properties. This is the largest property development in Leeds, worth £180m.
This year could see the firm merge with Cobbetts. In November, The Lawyer revealed that the two firms were in talks (The Lawyer, 12 November 2001). Cobbetts managing partner Michael Shaw said that Cobbetts' aim was to break into the competitive Leeds market. “We know the climate in Leeds,” he says. “It would be a mistake to go into Leeds on our own. Although Read Hind Stewart is a smaller firm, the size of it belies its abilities.”
Hymas has little to say on the recent loss of one of his most senior partners and a member of the three-man management team Andrew Laycock, who joined Garwood Devine (The Lawyer, 3 September 2001). His replacement, Oliver Nelson from Halliwell Landau, has already started. Hymas says: “Andrew chose to go and I don't believe it has done us any harm. There were 17 partners before Andrew went and there are 17 partners now. Oliver was in Leeds before and will, I hope, redevelop his previous contacts.”
Other new recruits are Jonathan Crew, who joined in October 2000 from Eversheds' Leeds office and Maurice Cowan, the former joint managing partner of Addleshaw Booth & Co, who came out of retirement in January 2001 to join Reed Hind as a partner. “We took [Cowan] on to give us some grey hair advice and contacts,” says Hymas. “He's brought a larger firm view, which has been very useful.” David Bowden from Hammonds Suddards Edge also joined the firm in March.
Read Hind has a debt recovery service which operates on a no-win, no-fee basis. Hymas calls it “quite a little jewel”. The firm has also undertaken debt management, assisting clients to set up proper debt structures.
Hymas is highly focused on partner services. “We see a substantial market here in the North that other firms in our area cannot or will not service because of their higher cost base,” he says. “Our strategy is to sell into that marketplace with people that you'd expect to have at the larger firms. My key issue is to make sure we maintain that level of fee-earner and also maintain the partner contact that's so important to our clients.”
As ever, escalating recruitment and salary costs may interfere with those plans – Read Hind's starting salary for newly qualified solicitors is now £27,000. It will have to go on increasing it if it has any hope of competing with the larger, wealthier firms.