Cardiff's M and A Solicitors made the news last week (see The Lawyer, 13 January) when it announced that it had established a public sector consultancy in an attempt to capitalise on the boom in public sector work in Wales. The consultancy, which will be known as the 'Public Trust Partnership' (PTP), will be run as an independent part of the business and will be headed up by partner Roy Thomas, formerly the legal director of the Welsh Development Agency.
M and A is better known as a specialist corporate finance and commercial practice, launched in September 1999 by ex-Eversheds partners Alan Whiteley and Stephen Berry.
Whiteley had been a partner at Eversheds Cardiff for nine years, before joining financial advisory outfit Gambit Corporate Finance in 1998. He and Berry kept in touch and decided to form M and A when they identified a gap in the market for a small, specialist corporate firm with an emphasis on IT and technology.
Former Eversheds corporate lawyer Rachelle Sellek joined them as a partner in 2000, followed by Robert Twigg, a commercial property lawyer, also from Eversheds, in 2001. The firm's fifth partner, Roy Thomas, came aboard in September 2002.
The firm's client base stemmed from relationships formed at Eversheds, as well as referrals from Gambit. New business has mostly come off the back of relationships with existing clients. Berry believes the firm has benefited from the fact that its clients are “very entrepreneurial”.
As the firm's reputation and profile have grown, it has been asked to pitch for regional work alongside Morgan Cole and Osborne Clarke; but it has also picked up work from companies outside the region, such as Capita Group, which has perhaps balked at the cost of City law firms. “Companies will need to go to the City firms for things like specialised pensions advice, but we can do the mainstream corporate stuff,” says Berry.
Perhaps the most significant deal for the development of the firm came when it advised IQE on a series of complex commercial arrangements with Motorola, followed by a £45m fundraising in late 2001. Instructions followed from companies such as AIM-listed Farsight.
Although the vast majority of the firm's clients are still private sector, it has recently acted for the Royal Mint, advising on a recent Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee hearing, and Cardiff University, through the PTP.
The firm's close relationship with Gambit has allowed it to operate joint-fee arrangements, under which clients can be charged a single fee for combined financial and legal advice. Many of M and A's clients are used to using the two organisations side by side, and this was the arrangement when the firm acted for a consortium led by Omniport on the £33.5m acquisition of Glasgow Prestwick International Airport from Stagecoach.
According to Berry, M and A has so far exceeded its turnover targets each year, enjoying growth of 40-50 per cent year-on-year and achieving greater levels of profitability than would have been possible at many a larger firm. Its focus on the private equity/venture capital end of the market means that it has not been too exposed to “listed companies battening down the hatches”.
But Berry insists that M and A has “no intention other than to stay independent” so long as the firm is successful and profitable. He adds: “Quite honestly, we feel we're better at winning the work than they [the larger firms in the region] are.”