Senior/managing partner: Ron Perry
No of equity partners: Seven
Total number of partners: Nine
Total lawyers (excluding trainees, paralegals and legal executives): 23
Main practice areas: Commercial and property
Main clients: Network Rail, British Transport Police, the Royal British Legion and the Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust
That was the prospect facing Vizard Oldham when, in October 2001, 16 partners – including the then senior partner Richard Foster – announced they were leaving to link up with Liverpool-based insurance specialist Weightmans.
“The 16 partners who handled insurance and claims litigation decided it was in the best interest of their client base to join a likeminded firm with the specialist infrastructure necessary for their work and clients,” says departee Foster.
When the group finally left the practice in May last year, it reduced Vizard Oldham from 23 to seven partners overnight. Ron Perry, who has taken on the senior partner role at Vizard Oldham, says: “It was a difficult time because the partners who were,
generally speaking, our healthcare practice had entered into an agreement with Weightmans to take their healthcare connections with them.”
The move was made even more galling because Vizard Oldham had just taken on more space and additional staff in anticipation of growth in the healthcare practice on the back of an expanded National Health Service Litigation Authority (NHSLA) contract.
Fortuitously, the extra space was in a separate building, which meant that Weightmans eventually agreed to take over the space and the support staff. “It was dealt with on a Tupe [Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations] basis,” says Perry. “Weightmans took over the space, plus all the people in it, down to the secretaries. It meant that it didn't make a huge difference to our other practice areas because it was a very clean break.”
Under Perry, Vizard Oldham has refocused its practice, concentrating on commercial and property work, plus an expansion of its private client capabilities.
In June last year, it merged with three-partner commercial and property practice Brooke Blain Russell, taking on all the partners, one assistant, a practice manager and six support staff. It subsequently changed its name to Vizard Oldham Brooke Blain.
In August 2002, it also hired private client partner Tony Millson, together with an assistant, from Hextall Erskine, bringing total partner numbers back up to 11, although two partners have since retired.
Perry says: “We'd been talking to Brooke Blain before the split because there was a concern that the firm was becoming unbalanced and didn't have the level of commercial work that a Central London practice should have.”
The recruitment of Millson and senior assistant Christine Green also gave the firm a dedicated private client practice for the first time.
The division of work is 27 per cent pure commercial, 27 per cent commercial and property litigation, 35 per cent non-contentious property and 11 per cent private client. It is aiming for a 15 per cent increase in turnover for the coming year, but Perry is unwilling to divulge what the current turnover figure is.
Prior to the split, Perry admits that the two halves of the firm – healthcare insurance and commercial/property – were very distinct and existed as quite separate entities.
He says it is a mistake that the firm will not make again. “When you have practices that are split between commercial, property and then highly specialised litigation, it's difficult to know where you can cross-fertilise and develop. By focusing just on property and commercial, there are much clearer synergies. That's our declared objective for the new firm,” he says.