Ward Hadaway embraces former foe for expansion campaign

“It’s better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.” Lyndon B Johnson.

Perhaps it was inevitable. Kick out your managing partner after he has spent 10 years making you a fortune, and who can blame him if he signs up with your arch rival?

And so it is that Andrew Hoyle, former senior partner of Newcastle upstart Watson Burton, has joined its Geordie nemesis Ward Hadaway.

Hoyle joins Ward Hadaway with a mandate to repeat the expansion he performed at his old firm, where he was the driver behind new offices in both Leeds and London, not to mention the creation of a blockbusting
profit per equity partner (PEP) of £712,000.

All being well, Hoyle plans to open new offices for the firm in either Leeds or Manchester within 12 months; and despite managing partner Jamie Martin saying that Ward Hadaway “sees itself as very much a Northern firm”, Hoyle has not ruled out an office in the capital 5-10 years down the line. All of which must make interesting reading for the opposition.

Back at Watson Burton, lawyers that joined the firm to help it carry out its ambitions outside Newcastle must be wondering what their futures hold, now that Hoyle, the senior partner that

recruited them for that purpose, has been booted out following a row with the partnership about those very same ambitions (The Lawyer, 26 September 2006). Construction partner Rob Langley, who succeeded Hoyle as Watson Burton’s senior partner, will need to reassure those nervous lawyers if he is to prevent them from investigating alternatives elsewhere – or even over the road.

Over at Geordie giant Dickinson Dees, many partners must be wondering why their own firm does not have a wider reach. Far and away the biggest of the Newcastle-based firms, Dickinsons’ £47.8m turnover dwarfs Watson Burton’s £22.9m and Ward Hadaway’s £21.6m, and the firm has far more fee-earners than both rivals put together. Yet, bar a cautious venture into Yorkshire via safer, tamer York rather than the traditional Leeds (The Lawyer, 7 December 2006) and the rental of a slightly larger space in London (The Lawyer, 19 February), the firm remains firmly Newcastle-focused.

Managing partner Neil Braithwaite puts this cautiousness down to wanting “to continue growing in the way we have in the past [and] not to endanger our identity in the way that some firms have when they’ve opened second or third offices”. No prizes for guessing who he is referring to.

While this philosophy would be fine if the firm was going great guns back in Toon, this is not the case. Turnover rose a so-so 10 per cent during the last financial year, while PEP actually fell by £6,000, supposedly due to the cost of a move to new Newcastle premises.

And when the old way does not pay, and Watson Burton’s supposedly identity-endangering new offices have helped raise its turnover by 42 per cent in a year, no wonder Martin is backing the Hoyle, rather than the Braithwaite, approach to expansion. And with his eyes set on lateral hires, Martin will be hoping that Braithwaite’s partners feel the same way.

The topic of management and strategy raises another curious point. Hoyle’s addition to the Ward Hadaway team brings the total number of former managing partners at the firm to six. In addition to Hoyle these are Malcolm Lloyd, former managing partner of Pinsent Curtis (now Pinsent Masons); Martin Hulls, former managing partner of Shacklocks; Alan Harkness, former managing partner of Keenlyside & Forster; Chris Huggil, former managing partner of Eversheds’ Newcastle office; and senior partner David Douglas, Martin’s predecessor as managing partner at Ward Hadaway.

How this will work in practice remains to be seen. On the one hand Hoyle will have plenty of advisers to fall back on in the unlikely event that he ever feels any uncertainty. On the other Hoyle is a lawyer whose maverick approach has already alienated him from another small equity partnership of strong-minded individuals. Langley and Braithwaite will hope that too many cooks might once again spoil the broth.