Leeds corporate star Sean Lippell started work at Garretts last week after only seven months of a contractual 12-months' 'gardening leave' – part of which he spent mountain walking in Africa and the Himalayas.

The high-profile Pinsent Curtis defector – Lippell was national head of corporate – was suspended from Pinsents on 14 October after handing in his notice and was initially held to his contractual 12-months' gardening leave.

Although he retained his profit share he was not allowed into the office or any contact with clients.

Instead the 46-year-old left his wife and two children at home while he spent two and a half months trekking in Tanzania and Nepal.

“I spent the time until Christmas adjusting to the fact that I was no longer working,” Lippell confessed last week at his new office in Garretts where he is northern managing partner. “To go from being extremely busy to be effectively out of work is quite a shock.”

Lippell, who was at Pinsent Curtis and its predecessor Simpson Curtis for nine years, said he had to cope with dozens of calls and letters every day for several weeks from well wishers “trying to find out what the hell had happened”.

Shortly before Christmas he decided, with the encouragement of his wife, that “if this was going to go on for a year I may as well go and do some of the things I had always wanted to do”.

First he flew to Tanzania and walked up both Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru and then on to the isolated reserve of Katavi near Lake Tanganyika where he camped in a river plain with just a safari guide and a cook. “There didn't seem to be anyone else in the whole park,” he said, “it was a very strange experience.”

Next stop Nepal, where he joined an organised trek through mountains in the north-eastern tip of the country on the border with Tibet, walking and camping in tents.

“If I hadn't taken advantage of the opportunity, I would always have regretted it,” he said.

Now Lippell is in charge of 20 partners and 34 fee earners at Garretts' Leeds and Manchester offices and is also back advising corporate clients. He says he has already received three new instructions in his first week.

“It's quite strange getting back to work,” he said. “It feels like the vertical hold has gone on the television set.”

Lippell would not comment on the reasons for his move from Pinsents' Leeds office. He joins Garretts at the same time as Pinsents corporate partner Frank Suttie. They are just two of several corporate lawyer defectors from the firm to Garretts since Birmingham-based Pinsent & Co merged with Simpson Curtis in 1995.

Pinsent Curtis senior partner Julian Tonks said Lippell had been allowed to go early because the end of the financial year (30 April) “is a convenient date for him to stop”. Working out Lippell's profit share for part of a year would probably have created accounting difficulties.

Tonks said that in Alan Greenough, Lippell's Leeds replacement transferred from Birmingham, he believed the firm had recruited “the best corporate lawyer outside London”.