Barry Francis, the managing partner at Buchanan Ingersoll, has the dubious honour of being possibly the first ever lawyer to be subject to a joint custody order.
When he and his projects team announced they were to split with Beachcroft Wansbroughs in October 1999, Kramer v Kramer style negotiations started between the two firms.
The end result was that Francis continued to work on the PFI deals he had started at Beachcrofts, while working as a Buchanans subcontractor, together with the team of five partners and seven assistants that moved over with him.
It was an arrangement that Beachcrofts was especially pleased with at the time, with senior partner Lord Hunt saying: “People see movement of people within firms as something that threatens the firm. But people move on. We will have access to the same people as if they were part of our firm and the client will not notice the difference.”
Francis is still working with Beachcrofts on three major PFI deals: Barts Hospital PFI in London, the West Berkshire Hospital PFI in Reading and a hospital in Coventry.
“Some of the work is also being done by Buchanan Ingersoll. It’s doing the property work. The decision to share the team was the natural outcome of the discussions,” says Francis. “It was the sensible thing to do.”
Reading between the lines, it seems that Francis is a naturally loyal person who found the decision to leave a firm that he had been with for more than two decades very difficult.
Those in the know credit Francis with moving Beachcroft Stanley out of the small-time insurance market and into the rapidly growing market of health PFI work.
Francis was one of the first players in the industry to recognise just how big the PFI sector was to become, and his team are widely recognised as one of the best in the domestic PFI business.
His move has also been put down to the merger between Beachcroft Stanley, Wansbroughs Willey Hargrave and Vaudreys. However, Francis becomes very sheepish when asked why he decided to quit. He spends a few moments organising the thoughts in his head, so that he doesn’t insult either side.
“The merger at one level didn’t affect my practice very much and gave it the opportunity to develop in the regions. The Buchanans move was about what I could do at Buchanans not what I couldn’t do at Beachcrofts. It was a very difficult decision in many ways.”
When he applied to what was then Stanley & Simpkins North to do his training, he did so because it was a relatively small firm with a private client department.
“Like Miss World I wanted to look after people and travel the world. But as luck would have it on my first day they merged and I was absolutely horrified to find that my first seat was doing corporate work.”
During his career, Francis has dabbled in competition law and cross-border work, tax, and now work between the public and private sector.
PFI work appeals to Francis because, he says, he enjoys the translation work. “I did a lot of joint venture work and my previous firm had a health practice. As the health service began to change into a more commercial relationship than just buying drugs and bandages, I saw that there would be a lot of transactional work because of the size of the NHS.
“When I started doing the interface work between public and private the job was almost as much being a translator between the two sectors.”
Francis, it seems, is still trying to get used to being in a new firm. He often talks about Buchanans as “they”, then quickly corrects himself to “we”.
After bedding in the projects practice, Francis is now expanding the office into other practice areas. He affirms that Michael Henry, founding partner of Henry Hepworth, is very likely to join Buchanans to start an IP/IT practice.
A tax partner is due to be announced in the next week, to support the planned areas of expansion into new technology and the corporate finance support for this area. The firm will also start looking into cross-border investment work between the States and here.
“Buchanan Ingersoll is a very entrepreneurial firm. It’s good at sitting down and working out what it’s going to do, for example its investment in the London office is very impressive,” says Francis.
“There are no cultural differences [in working for a US firm] that have come as a surprise. There is a clear understanding in the firm that as far as the London office is concerned it is a London law firm rather than an outpost.”
US firms have a reputation in London for paying above the odds but expecting their pound of flesh in the form of long working hours. Francis says his experience does not fit with this image.
“I don’t know anyone [in a UK firm] who when they had a deal to be done didn’t work whatever it needed to be done. There may, however, be more of a culture here of being in the office to be seen in the office.”
But he stresses that Buchanans’ London office does not expect the typical 2,400 hours a year that other US firms demand in the US, just a reasonable 1,500 to 1,700.
Perhaps part of the reason why Francis seems so keen not to insult Beachcrofts is that he met his wife, Penny Francis, at the firm.
When they met, Penny, who is now head of commercial property at Lawrence Graham, was his trainee.However, he protests it was him who was seduced and that the relationship did not start until Penny had moved department.
Then, adhering to the culture of confidentiality so crucial to the success of a lawyer, they managed to keep it quiet for nine months.
“Not even Dave the Doorman knew,” says Francis, smiling. “And Dave the Doorman knew everything.”