Redundancies hit UK’s regional property teams

Redundancies hit UK's regional property teamsSix more regional firms are making redundancies in their residential conveyancing teams as the ongoing property slump continues to impact on the legal sector.

The ;majority ;of redundancies are expected to hit support staff and conveyancers, although a number of fee-earners also face job losses.

EMW Law, Franklins Solicitors, Geoffrey Leaver, Matthew Arnold & Baldwin (MAB), Shoosmiths and Tollers are the latest firms to announce redundancies (see table).

At the Northampton office of Shoosmiths, 23 conveyancing staff have accepted voluntary redundancy and five more are at risk of compulsory redundancy. Regional firm Tollers has laid off 18 residential conveyancing staff across four offices; and it is understood that MAB has made seven staff, including one solicitor, redundant in Milton Keynes and Watford.

Hammonds ;Direct, the volume conveyancing business ;that ;gained its independence from Hammonds eight years ago, has also made a number of redundancies.

Firms in Milton Keynes and the surrounding areas have been particularly hard hit, with Kimbells Solicitors announcing 11 redundancies, including two paralegals (, 24 June).

The firm’s managing partner Peter Holden said: “The position is that the downturn in the economy and the credit crunch has led us to reshape our business.” EMW has made four support staff redundant, while Northampton and Milton Keynes-based Franklins is understood to have made several ;redundancies, including fee-earning staff. Partners at Franklins refused to comment.

At Hammonds Direct, chief executive officer John Heller admitted that a number of staff had been forced to leave the firm, but refused to confirm the number of departures.

He said: “We’re in the residential property market and the residential property market’s suffered. As a consequence, the volume business has suffered. We’re in the worst residential property market for nearly 20 years.”

MAB head of property David Marsden agreed that the outlook for the sector is not good, saying: “It’s very clear that the property market’s taking a bit of a hammering at the moment. Reading the papers it looks like it’s come off a cliff, and building society reports say the market’s down by a half.”

The view at Tollers is similarly bleak, with a spokesman claiming to be unsurprised by the redundancies. “It’s a reflection of the market,” he said, “and you hear similar tales from firms across the country.”

Hammonds Direct’s Heller said he expected current market conditions to continue for at least 18 months and that recruitment would definitely be affected. He added that it was impossible to say whether further redundancies would be on the cards.

News of the hit taken by the conveyancing markets follows a period of several months ;during ;which firms across the country have begun redundancy programme consultations.

Among these South East firm ASB Law is set to cut costs by closing its Brighton and Horsham offices in a move likely to affect around 70 staff. The firm does not anticipate that the closures will affect any fee-earners and it intends to absorb some of the staff into its Crawley and Maidstone offices.

Senior partner Russell Bell said the firm had begun reviewing its office spread a year ago. “When the firm started in 2000 we had nine small, local offices,” he said. “What we are now is a regional firm in what we see as a strong regional market.”

ASB is not the only firm to close offices in a bid to cut overheads. In Devon Bond Pearce is hoping to avoid any further culls by shutting its Exeter office and giving 60 staff the option of moving either to its Plymouth or Bristol bases.

Last year the firm cut 25 lawyers from its personal injury (PI) practice after losing a Post Office PI contract.

Local rival TLT Solicitors has axed 11 staff from its Bristol office, including six fee-earners and one member of support staff. The cuts have been made in the licensing team – an industry that has been hit severely by the economic slowdown.

The official line is that the firm’s licensing practice, home to four partners and 32 fee-earners, has seen work tail off at the end of a busy three-year period, during which it helped the pub industry adapt to massive legislative changes. In addition, the licensing industry is shrinking, with the British Beer and Pub Association reporting that 1,500 pubs closed down in 2007.

That ;said, ;TLT ;has escaped relatively unscathed compared with Bristol-headquartered Bevan Brittan, which is still consulting with 40 staff about their futures at the firm. Sources close to the firm suggest the final figure will be fewer than 40.

The total number of redundancies at Bevan Brittan was eclipsed last week by Howard Kennedy (The Lawyer, 23 June), which has begun a redundancy consultation with 50 staff. The firm blamed the impact of the credit crunch for the move.

Property partner Paul Springall told The Lawyer: “The market conditions are pretty gloomy out there. The credit crunch is upon us and we have to review our entire business to be able to adapt.”

Springall refused to name the practices that would be most adversely affected, but it is anticipated that the property practice will be hit.