Move On Up: Penningtons

A recent double merger added 10 to the partnership, replenishing the net losses of the past six years

South-east firm Penningtons is in the middle of a transition period. At the start of the current financial year the firm merged with St Alban’s firm Wedlake Saint and Lincoln’s Inn firm Dawsons, picking up a total of 10 partners from the two acquisitions.

The bolt-ons should mean that the firm’s headcount and turnover are both up at the end of the year. However, they follow six years in which Penningtons has seen a net decrease in the number of partners – and that is excluding both mergers and the November 2007 demerger of the Newbury office to Thomas Eggar.

Additions to the partnership have come through both lateral hiring and promotions. Over the period from April 2006 to the current financial year, Penningtons has promoted eight partners and hired 14. The promotions were split evenly across its offices, with three new partners for both the Godalming and London ­offices and two for Basingstoke.

Feminine touch

Five of the internally promoted partners were women. Business services was the most popular division, attracting five of the eight promotions. In 2008-09 property lawyer James Nadin was made up, while in 2006-07 Laura Dadswell and Philippa Luscombe were both ­promoted within the ‘private individual’ division.

The male/female balance shifts back towards men when it comes to lateral hires at Penningtons. Since 2006 the firm has hired 10 men and four women. Also, all the partners who joined from Dawsons and Wedlake Saint in the current financial year were male.

Penningtons made no lateral hires in 2006-07. The following year saw the arrival of property partner Ava Madon from Robert Muckle. Madon was one of six commercial property hires in six years, with the most ­recent lateral – Stephenson ­Harwood’s John Hargreaves – one of this group. A further four property partners joined from the merging firms.

Other laterals have arrived across a range of practice groups and from a range of firms, mainly small- to mid-sized regional players. Two corporate partners have been recruited in the past year, James Klein from Rosenblatt and David Kendall from Stevens & Bolton, while other sources of partners include Bindmans, Dickinson Dees, Shoosmiths and Wedlake Bell.

Despite recruiting partners regularly, Penningtons has also lost a number from its partnership over the past six years. Of the 27 to leave the partnership, 10 became consultants at the firm while another six retired. Another three partners have chosen to either leave the profession or take a break to spend time with family.

A further nine partners moved to other firms or organisations. Penningtons lost four partners to four firms in 2006-07, including David Wilson, who became a consultant at Thomas Eggar. Andrew Nicholas pursued the same route the following year, shortly before the demerger of the Newbury office, when 12 partners left Penningtons for Thomas Eggar.

Penningtons’ London office has seen the greatest number of partner departures and retirements, with 11 leaving the partnership over six years – a number offset by its office in the capital ­attracting the vast majority of lateral hires. Godalming has lost eight partners, while six have left the partnership in Basingstoke.

The corporate department has lost the most partners of any one group, with eight departures – six to other firms and two corporate partners ­becoming Penningtons consultants.

Penningtons is pursuing a strategy of finding partners for “identified gaps” instead of bulking up practice teams. It is also working to develop the skills and expertise of the entire firm, not just in law but also in more general business skills.

The firm says it is in the process of “refreshing” its human resources structure and strategy “in the light of the changing legal environment to lend more weight to the development programme and to encourage more of us to develop and follow through with innovative ways of adding value to our work”.