Morgan Cole wars with ex-partners

Former partners complain of money being held back; injunction brought against ex-insurance head

Morgan Cole is withholding capital from a group of former Swansea partners and has expelled its highly-rated head of insurance Iain Tenquist from the partnership.
These latest troubles to plague the merged firm, which has suffered from a staggering rate of departures and disappointing profit levels, coincide with the news that former head of energy Paul Dillon has clinched a deal to join Hammond Suddards Edge as a partner.
The firm applied for an injunction against Tenquist at Bristol High Court last month. The proceedings are understood to relate to his plans to leave and take part of the insurance practice with him. He was expelled from the partnership two weeks ago.
Morgan Cole chairman John Cole said: “The [legal] proceedings preceeded the expulsion. That was done to protect our position while we considered whether he should be expelled. Those legal proceedings are stayed on undertakings by him to comply with certain undertakings. They require him to not speak to clients or breach the terms of the partnership agreement.
“We have as a result of the steps he was taking spoken to all our insurance clients. They've been informed of the situation and we're grateful to them for their continued support and understanding about it.” Clients include CGNU, AXA, Cornhill and Churchill.
Tenquist was unavailable for comment.
In Swansea, the break-away team, comprising equity partners Tarquin Hall, Rosemary Morgan and Chris Cann and fixed-share partner William Waters, were put on immediate gardening leave last year after their decision to quit (The Lawyer, 13 August 2001). After serving their six-month notice period, the four property partners launched their own practice in Swansea as Morgan LaRoche. But the partners have not received their equity back from Morgan Cole and the money is understood to run into hundreds of thousands of pounds.
The dispute hinges on a covenant aimed at preventing partners from opening a legal practice within five miles of any Morgan Cole office, but Morgan LaRoche has opened two and a half miles from Morgan Cole's Swansea office.
Last month, Morgan told The Western Mail that the new firm was satisfied that the geographical covenant is not enforceable. But the partners are still owed money by their old firm and the matter is with their solicitors.
Cole said: “They're not due to have it [the equity] returned yet under the terms of the partnership.”
Partners at the new firm declined to comment on the dispute, but did confirm that they are to be joined in their new niche practice by insurance and employment partner Timothy Jones, commercial assistant William Barletta and construction assistant Steve Mundy, all from Morgan Cole.
Morgan Cole's string of losses continues in London, with former energy partner Dillon quitting for Hammonds' dispute resolution team. After finishing his notice period in December, Dillon stayed on as a consultant at Morgan Cole while he finalised his arrangements.
More than 20 partners have left the partnership since the merger of Cole & Cole and Morgan Bruce in November 1998 and its subsequent merger with Fishburn Boxer. The bulk of departures have come from the old Cole & Cole firm, but Cole played down the high turnover.
“I don't think it's been a high turnover, but one of the effects of the merger is that you can't put two bits together and expect it to operate at a higher level without doing anything, so a lot of departures have been requested or required by the strategy which we've put together,” he commented.
Cole added that the mood within the partnership was “comfortable” nevertheless.