Councils pool legal spend

Five North East councils pool legal expenditure
Confidence has been the theme in the North East in recent months, with most of the region’s players in expansionary mode. And not just in the private sector.

Last week saw five North East boroughs take a revolutionary step, merging their external legal spends and appointing Newcastle-based Dickinson Dees and Ward Hadaway to their first joint panel, as first reported on (6 February). Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar & Cleveland and Stockton councils are the first local authorities in the region to procure joint legal services. This was done in response to Sir Peter Gershon’s review of public spending efficiency, which calls on local authorities to join forces to win economies of scale.

Dickinsons and Ward Hadaway will be the preferred advisers for the next five years, advising on issues such as regeneration and Building Schools for the Future (BSF) projects, PFI schemes and procurement.

The panel win is a coup for Ward Hadaway’s new head of public sector Melanie Pears, who joined the firm two months earlier from Eversheds, as first reported by The Lawyer (6 October 2006).

Ward Hadaway launches China joint venture
Ward Hadaway has also found time for expansion, both at home and abroad. Clubbing together with Deloitte and management consultancy RTC North, the firm has launched a service enabling North East companies to break into China, as first reported on www.thelawyer. com (15 November 2006).

Ward Hadaway commercial partner Damien Charlton says the three organisations will guide companies on the legal, financial and organisational aspects of heading east.

“Some clients might feel daunted about setting up in China by themselves, as they have no concept of what’s involved. We can offer them a one-stop shop, advising on all the steps involved,” says Charlton.

Ward Hadaway has also teamed up with Shanghai-based law firm Boss & Young, which will provide local advice on issues including joint venture agreements and IP.

Charlton adds: “We went to Shanghai to find a firm to use as a partner. We needed to find someone to work with, to refer work to and to get general assistance from. Boss & Young are most closely matched to us in terms of understanding our type of client.”

And if tackling the most populated country in the world was not enough, Charlton is floating the idea of tackling the second most populated country too. “If this scheme is successful then we’ll look to replicate it elsewhere,” he says. “India would be the obvious next candidate.”

Ward Hadaway found the time to open a shiny new office on Newcastle’s Quayside, as first reported by The Lawyer (22 January).

The firm is relocating its personal injury, corporate recovery and insolvency teams to 7,500sq ft of newly built office space in the Trinity Gardens area of the city.

Around 30 staff will move to the firm’s existing premises in Sandgate House and Keel Row House, creating additional space for growth, which is intended particularly for the commercial property team.

Watson Burton builds up construction
Elsewhere in Newcastle, rival Watson Burton was lauding the hire of Nigel Stubbings, previously operations director of the National Federation of Builders (NFB) (, 29 January), for which Watson Burton is the construction adviser for the North East, North West, Midlands and Wales regions.

Stubbings joins the firm as a construction services director – the equivalent of partner at the firm. He began his career in 1992 as assistant director for the London, Southern and Eastern service centre at the Building Employers Confederation (BEC) before helping to set up the NFB in 1995. In 2006 he launched the House Builders Association, a division of the NFB.

The move is a significant hire for Watson Burton’s nine-partner construction group and reflects a new emphasis on the practice since team head Rob Langley became the firm’s managing partner last year (The Lawyer, 5 October 2006).

Merger gifts Dickinson Dees a Yorkshire outpost
Riding the wave of North-East enthusiasm, Dickinsons merged with York-based corporate boutique Philip Ashworth & Co (The Lawyer, 7 December 2006).

The newly combined firm’s York office opened at the start of the month. It is Dickinsons’ first base in Yorkshire. Watson Burton opened a Yorkshire presence two years ago in ultra-competitive Leeds (, 11 August 2004).

Dickinsons managing partner Neil Braithwaite says: “Yorkshire’s a big market and we’ve been developing our business there for some time.

“We wanted to continue growing in the way we have in the past and in a sustainable way, but not to endanger our identity in the way that some firms have when they’ve opened second or third offices.”

Dickinsons will initially be based at Philip Ashworth’s existing office, but it has already secured a lease on purpose-built offices elsewhere in the city.