Hill Dickinson had to shelve plans to take over the entirety of Halliwells because clients were abandoning the financially troubled firm once it looked as if it would enter administration, according to Hill Dickinson’s managing partner Peter Jackson.
Jackson told The Lawyer he was “very satisfied with what we’ve got” after his firm picked up 129 members of staff, including 30 partners, across Liverpool and Sheffield.
“We were in discussions for the whole, but it became apparent that Halliwells couldn’t deliver the whole because clients were taking their own decisions once notice [of intention to appoint an administrator] was filed,” he added.
Hill Dickinson had been in talks with Halliwells partners for several months before it filed notice of intention to appoint an administrator on 24 June. It had been particularly interested in Halliwells’ Manchester office, after its own investment in former DLA Piper joint head of private equity Darryl Cooke had failed to pay off.
Cooke, who was thought to have been on a three-year guaranteed remuneration package, left Hill Dickinson in March 2010 alongside a number of his assistants.
The Lawyer understands from other sources that prominent banks kicked Halliwells off their rosters once notice was filed and a race was on to do a deal before other clients walked. Clients that Hill Dickinson managed to pick up from legacy partners include Sheffield United.
Hill Dickinson has a long history of growth through mergers, having acquired Chester firm Wayman-Hales to launch in that city in 1997, property specialists Bullivant Jones in 2004 and London-based shipping firm Hill Taylor Dickinson in 2006, while the acquisition of commodities boutique Middleton Potts last July boosted 2009-10 revenues by about £3m.
The Halliwells acquisition, however, was made in July 2010 and so did not uplift total income of £87m for 2009-10. Jackson is currently revising forecasted revenues for 2009-10 by 8 per cent – from £97m to £105m as a result.
Almost half of that income will be generated from Liverpool, making Hill Dickinson the largest firm in the city. The Halliwells staff, including its former managing partner Jonathan Brown, join the firm’s offices at St Paul’s Square.
“To get a team that’s completely focused on commercial operations was ideal because it’s not where we’ve punched our weight,” explained Jackson. “Our historical focus is on insurance, litigation and marine. Although they’ve fed into the commercial [side] we’ve never really punched our weight with DLA [Piper], Brabners [Chaffe Street] and Halliwells. I think we’ve joined up the dots. Now we’re market leaders.”
Hill Dickinson also took a team of 36, including healthcare partner Andrew Peel and corporate partner Neil Thompson, to launch in Sheffield. Jackson admitted that his firm “had to look and see what it was because we didn’t know”, but that having done its due diligence, he was “confident” about the offering.
The team he took was much diminished by raids from Kennedys, which took the insurance practice, and Beachcroft, which took a healthcare team leaving just one healthcare partner on board (TheLawyer.com, 10 February 2010).
But Jackson claimed Peel’s practice on the private healthcare side complimented Hill Dickinson’s strengths on the public sector side.
Jackson also spoke of cultural synergies between the new partners and Hill Dickinson. “The commercial side, led by Neil Thompson [who joined Halliwells from DLA Piper in 2008], was more akin to our type of culture than pre-2009 Halliwells or DLA [Piper] at the beginning of the century,” he affirmed.