Move On Up: Brabners Chaffe Street

Associates at the North West firm have not had much to shout about in the past five years, with laterals and tie-ups limiting opportunities

North West firm Brabners Chaffe Street has experienced a period of rapid expansion in recent years, but the growth has been predominantly through mergers and lateral hires rather than organic growth from within its associate ranks. Nevertheless, a strong promotions round last year shows that the firm is still expanding internally.

Brabners added 17 partners through mergers with James Chapman & Co in Manchester at the ­beginning of the 2006-07 financial year and with Bremners in Liverpool in May 2009. The mergers are on top of a number of partner-level lateral hires set against the same number of internal promotions.

There have been only three internal promotion rounds at Brabners in the past five years. No partners were made up internally in the 2006-07 and 2009-10 financial years, when the firm carried out its mergers.

Half of the promotions took place in 2010-11, when three new partners were made up in Liverpool and two in Manchester. Employment law, ­commercial and corporate were the practice areas that gained.

The firm promoted two partners, both employment specialists, in 2007-08. Of the two, Manchester-based Simon Whitehead left Brabners in April 2011 to join start-up EOS Law.

Three Liverpool partners were ­promoted in 2008-09: private client specialist Duncan Bailey and commercial property specialists Stephen Lewis and Richard Roberts.

Throughout the past five years Brabners has supplemented its ­internal promotions with lateral ­hiring, picking up 10 partners from a range of local rivals.
Cobbetts has supplied two new partners in banking specialist ­Charlotte Round in 2007-08 and commercial property lawyer Tony Fitzmaurice the following year. Pannone was the source of a further two partners, litigator Stuart Irons and commercial partner Stephen Roper.

Eversheds was another firm tapped for two partners, with employment specialist Marcus Difelice joining Brabners in 2006-07 and ­corporate partner David Bowcock ­arriving in 2009-10.

Brabners has also hired from DLA Piper and Oglethorpe Sturton & Gillibrand (OSG) and also benefited from the demise of Halliwells by hiring property litigator Rachel Watkin.

Additionally, the firm has recruited a handful of senior associates from rival firms, including most ­recently Hammonds environment and regulatory lawyer Claire Gregory to head Brabners’ environment team in Preston.

However, the firm’s Preston office has gained very few partners in the past five years. There were no internal promotions for the office and just two lateral hires – Irons in 2008-09 and corporate partner Gill Gardner last year from OSG.

In contrast, four partners were hired laterally for the Liverpool office on top of seven promotions and the eight partners who joined from Bremners. The Manchester office gained three partners through promotion and four through lateral hires, plus nine from James ­Chapman.

Brabners has a poor showing when it comes to female partners. Figures provided for The Lawyer UK 200 ­Annual Report 2011 showed that the firm had 15 female partners out of a total partnership of 74. Its net gain in female partners between 2006-07 and 2010-11 was just two, most of whom arrived in the 2010-11 financial year, when the firm hired two women and promoted two. Meanwhile, a total of three female partners left the firm in the five-year period.

Partner losses from Brabners have predominantly been to other ­regional and national firms or boutique start-ups, although litigator Lawrence McDonald quit the firm in 2009-10 to return to the bar, where he started his career.

The firm has made no major changes to its HR strategy in the past year. Like many firms, Brabners was forced to carry out a redundancy programme in 2008 and 2009, cutting a total of 23 jobs, although the firm did continue to both hire and promote at partner level during this period.

Promotionsand senior hires

Maurice Watkins, sports law
Ex-James Chapman senior partner Watkins led a team of sports lawyers to Brabners in 2006

Lyn Mullan, employment
Mullan is one of only two women promoted to the partnership in the past few years

Tony Fitzmaurice, commercial property
Fitzmaurice is one of two partners to have joined Brabners from Cobbetts


34 Equity partners

40 Partners

109 Associates

14 Trainee

33 Fee-earners

158 Staff