Firm profile: Gordons

Until William Morrison Supermarkets retained Gordons (formerly Gordons Cranswick) to advise on its proposed takeover of Safeway, the national profile of the Bradford-based firm was negligible. With the Safeway deal still rolling along, its reputation as a no-nonsense commercial law firm is now spreading beyond the borders of its home county.

Gordons played a key role in bringing Ashurst Morris Crisp on to the team for the Safeway deal. It is a reflection of how highly Morrisons rates the smaller firm.

Gordons was established in Bradford and is still the top commercial firm in the city. It merged with Leeds firm Cranswick Watson in 2000 to form Gordons Cranswick, gaining a Leeds office in the process. Another merger with Bradford’s Sugden Spencer in November 2002 boosted the partnership to 34. However, in July 2003 the total number of partners was reduced to 31 when the firm consolidated its Bradford operations, closing its Keighley office and moving the work to Bradford. Three partners elected to remain in Keighley to set up their own practice. At the same time it also embarked on a rebranding strategy, dropping ‘Cranswick’ from the name to revert to its original name of Gordons. It also recruited several new lawyers.

The moves come on the back of three years of growth that has seen the firm attract key recruits from local rivals, including partners Peter Barton, David Smyllie and Rupert Nevin from DLA, private client partner Rachel Tunnicliffe from Addleshaw Goddard and litigation partner Matthew Howarth from Burges Salmon. The firm has doubled in size over the past five years and has just enjoyed its most successful year in terms of growth and profitability, with turnover increasing by 17 per cent to just over £9m.

The eight-partner Leeds office is expected to be the focus for much of the firm’s planned growth, but it remains committed to its Bradford base. Head of corporate John Holden says: “Bradford’s… a big city with large clients and generates lots of work. Our largest client, William Morrison, is Bradford-based and operates on a national scale. At the same time, we recognise that Leeds is a national legal centre and is vital to our development.”

Holden’s own profile has also been boosted by the Morrisons work. Because of Safeway, in April 2003 he was rated twelfth nationally in terms of value of deals worked on in the first quarter in a survey normally notable for the dominance of City-based lawyers at much larger law firms.

The practice is based around core company/commercial work and it is this team that has seen the bulk of the laterals. “We want to be the natural alternative to the regional big six… We’ve got to continue to build our service levels, continue to grow the practice and we have to bring in still more top-quality lawyers,” says Holden. “We need to be consistently doing work at the highest level. We’ve got the lawyers and the expertise, we’ve just got to make sure we carry that forward.”

Senior partner John Hall
Turnover £9.5m
Number of equity partners 12
Total number of partners 31
Total number of lawyers 60 (excluding trainees, paralegals and legal executives)
Main practice areas Commercial property, corporate commercial, litigation and private client
Key clients Anchor Trust, Coors Brewers, Hornbeam Park Developments, JCT 600, MCB Emerald, Peter Black Holdings and William Morrison Supermarkets
Number of offices Two
Location Bradford and Leeds