The south west

Clarke Willmott‘s revolving door still spinning.

Bristol-based Clarke Willmott has dominated South West legal news in recent months, winning and losing top talent and announcing aggressive expansion plans.

Finalising its strategy review at its partnership conference last October, the firm declared its intention to launch an office in the North and to ramp up its Birmingham operation (The Lawyer, 16 October 2006).

Managing partner David Sedgwick has not revealed where the new northern office might be, but told The Lawyer that any potential merger partner “would be chosen on the basis of cultural fit, not location”.

The firm is also looking to build on its strengths in retail and real estate and will expand both the banking and finance and corporate teams in Birmingham.

“There’ll be expansions in terms of people, turnover and geography,” says Sedgwick. “We’ll stick with our plan to grow through our existing groups because we aim to be more important in the sectors in which we’re already strong.” As part of this Clarke Willmott is targeting more high-net-worth clients for its private client group and is also reorganising its food and drinks practice to achieve greater differentiation between types of clients.

The plans are a display of confidence at the firm despite two major raids on the property team by rival Osborne Clarke.

As first reported on www.the (4 October 2006), Osborne bagged a residential property team comprising three partners and one assistant, which included star partner David Powell, before returning a week later to take head of strategic land development Elizabeth Sturgess (The Lawyer, 11 October 2006).

Having joined the Bristol rival just three months earlier from an in-house role as head of legal at developer Westbury Homes, Sturgess’s move was within her six-month probationary period at Clarke Willmott, allowing her to begin practising at the new firm immediately.

However, her hire closed the door on Osborne’s declared intention to strike a deal with Clarke Willmott to reduce the gardening leave on the departed residential property team, binding it to a full six months in the horticultural wilderness.

On 15 January Osborne managing partner Simon Beswick told The Lawyer: “[Osborne] wanted to reduce the gardening leave for the benefit of the clients, but the team won’t now work for us till April. However, we feel that this says a lot about their importance [to Clarke Willmott].”

Quizzed on whether Sturgess’s hire made the negotiations less promising, Beswick said: “I’m sure.”

The departures are a setback to Clarke Willmott’s real estate ambitions and follow a sustained period of expansion of the property team that includes 14 of the firm’s total 25 lateral hires in the past three years, plus two of its promotions to the partnership.

However, the group regained strength later in October by grabbing Cobbetts Birmingham property litigation head Martyn Liberson (The Lawyer, 16 October 2006).

Burges Salmon, Bond Pearce rejig management

Staying in Bristol, Burges Salmon appointed a new head for its 65-lawyer corporate and financial institutions group, which is the firm’s largest practice and includes the corporate finance, banking, pensions and employment teams (The Lawyer, 28 November 2006).

Banking partner Sandra Forbes is the firm’s first-ever female department head. She takes over from incumbent of five years Roger Hawes, who has returned to a full-time fee-earning role.

Elsehwere in Bristol, Bond Pearce appointed White & Case London chief operating officer (COO) Chris Schulten as its new finance director.

Schulten joined the firm after two years at New York-headquartered White & Case’s London office. But his role at White & Case is believed to have conflicted with that of global COO Jim Latchford, who relocated from New York in June 2005 to become UK executive committee chair. London chief operating partner Neil Upton also stood down in the same month. Schulten says: “In Bond Pearce I find a firm with a lot of potential and I’ll be helping it with management challenges, such as those stemming from the speed of its growth and its multi-site operation.”

Prior to joining White & Case in 2004, Schulten was European regional operating officer for Baker & McKenzie from 2001, and before that he was chief executive at Richards Butler – a position at the firm that has since been excised.

Bevan Brittan moves to new riverside home
Bevan Brittan completed its move into new offices last week, as first reported on (15 January).

The new building is called Kings Orchard and is situated at 1 Queen Street on Bristol’s riverside. It was purchased at the time of Bevan Brittan’s demerger from Bevan Ashford in November 2004 and has capacity for more than 500 employees.

The Bristol relocation follows those of the firm’s London and Birmingham offices, which have both moved to larger premises in the past two years.

Chief executive Stuart Whitfield comments: “As a firm which advises on major regeneration schemes, we’re pleased to be able to make our own direct contribution to regenerating this part of Bristol.”