Real Estate

Chris Edwards' decision to quit Dechert for the more welcoming arms of Charles Russell last month (The Lawyer, 1 July) spoke volumes about where real estate has been heading at the Anglo-US firm.
Edwards was part of the furniture at Titmuss Sainer Dechert in its heyday as one of the UK's leading property practices. Those who remember the old firm are wholly justified in asking what became of that high profile.
Of course, the market has moved on since then, but Titmuss Sainer's transatlantic ally and eventual merger partner Dechert Price & Rhoads never had much interest in 'dirt lawyers', as the Americans like to call them. Post-US takeover (let's be honest), they haven't changed their minds.
What they want is a property finance and securitisation practice. The shift might explain why the firm didn't seem too fazed when it lost its place on the WHSmith property panel to Shoosmiths earlier this year, ending a relationship of some seven or eight years. Manches, where the property focus is on retail and development, held on to its role, while Shoosmiths' retail practice took over from Dechert.
Given this backdrop, it is easy to see why not just Edwards, but Edwards at the head of a whole team of Dechert property partners, became ideal material for headhunters.
In the event, Edwards was snapped up on his own by Charles Russell, where managing partner Grant Howell is a long-time friend. Charles Russell could offer Edwards what he was looking for – a managerial role with a mandate for building up a property practice, rather than cutting one down.
But he is unlikely to be the last Dechert property partner to jump ship this year, provided others are canny enough to extricate themselves from a rather shrewd post-merger partnership deed.
Among those understood to be committed to the Dechert plan are Ciaran Carvalho, Edwards' successor as property head and a master in client care, and head of property investment Andrew Hutcheson, who looks set for a greater role in firm management. But some of their colleagues will be more open to persuasion from firms with a different take on where property fits in.
None of which is to say that Dechert necessarily has it wrong in terms of its business plan. The recent wins of the Land Securities retail warehouse portfolio and a new role on Crown Estate's urban portfolio show that Dechert must be doing something right. But at the same time, it is helping to leave the way open for a different tier of firms – the likes of Manches and Shoosmiths – to snaffle work it would once have jumped at in the days of Titmuss Sainer.