Moves and Mergers

The big moves in the North West have all seemed to involve Halliwell Landau recently, both incoming and outgoing.

In November, up-and-coming property partner Paul Conroy left to join Addleshaw Booth & Co less than 18 months after being made up to partner. Less surprising, in hindsight, was the departure of commercial property partner Stephen Goodman in July. Goodman, who until January had headed up the commercial property department, moved across town to Hammond Suddards Edge. One of the best-known property lawyers in Manchester, Goodman had stated his reasons for stepping down to be a dislike of the departmental management role, but he is widely credited with overseeing a key period of growth for the department. Perhaps his biggest impact so far, however, has been winning his new firm's annual golf day. Earlier this year, Hammonds also announced the recruitment of property partner Karen Brook, who joined the commercial property team from Eversheds, Birmingham, and Paul Schofield, formerly head of IP at Deacons in Hong Kong, who joined to head Manchester's intellectual property team.
Goodman's parking space at Halliwells was not vacant for long. Three weeks after he left, Halliwells topped off a miserable six months for Weightmans by poaching three partners from its Manchester office. Head of employment and Manchester managing partner Michael Ball, head of property David Morgan and commercial property partner Ron Waldie announced their departure from Weightmans less than a year after transferring to the Manchester office to set up a leisure and retail practice. Morgan and Waldie also brought with them two assistants and support staff, while four solicitors from the employment team came with Ball.
In contrast with Weightmans, Hill Dickinson seems to have put the insurance dark days behind it with a significant amount of restructuring and refocusing. Losing corporate partner Andrew Smithson to Wacks Caller in November was a blow. However, the firm has made some high-level recruitments of its own, not least Howard Young, former head of fraud at Keoghs. It has also set up a dedicated claims handling service, One Liability, clients of which include Somerfield. “In the marketplace we've been seen as a successful insurance defendant litigation practice. There's much more to us than that and we're trying to portray much more of a commercial practice throughout and not rely on insurance litigation as being our core focus,” says David Scott, the firm's head of litigation.
Addleshaw Booth & Co recruited professional indemnity specialist Mike Grant in September 2000, who joined the litigation department from Weightmans. In November he was joined by Margaret Harvey, an intellectual property partner from US-based Shaw Pittman's London office. A founding partner of that office, she is also a former head of legal at PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Garretts has spent most of 2001 out of the spotlight. It briefly surfaced in May to lose partner David Rogers to Halliwells and in July it lost IT partner Jason Austin to Eversheds, which recently announced the appointment of litigation partner Jonathon Crook from Clifford Chance in Hong Kong. He will join in October.
The North West bar
Despite latest figures showing it as the largest independent circuit outside London, with more than 1,000 members split between chambers in Manchester, Liverpool and Preston, the North West bar has never had a 'superset' of chambers to rival the size of 5 Fountain Court or St Philips Chambers in Birmingham, both with more than 100 members. But that may shortly be changing. The chambers of John Hand QC, 9 St John Street, and 28 St John Street, the chambers of Clement Goldstone QC, are in merger talks which, if successful, would create a 91-strong set, over 40 more than its closest rival, Deans Court Chambers.
But both sides appear keen to play down the talks, and none of the barristers at either set has commented on the proposed merger. A senior clerk at 9 St John Street, Tony Morrissey, says that “nothing has been confirmed. It might not necessarily happen, it's just one of those ongoing things, talks are in the air.”
Both sets specialise in criminal, family and personal injury law, although 9 St John Street also has specialist groups in commercial, employment and property. It also has an association with 42 Castle Street in Liverpool.
Giles Wingate-Saul QC, a tenant at the all-silk Byrom Street Chambers and chairman of the Northern Circuit Commercial Bar Association, says: “It would be the first time that two major sets have joined together in the North West. It would be something new up here and it would be interesting to see what happened.
“At the moment, the biggest chambers in Manchester are still of a manageable size and can also provide a personal service.” According to Wingate-Saul, the development of 'supersets' does have a downside. “Bigger chambers will find it more difficult to provide a personal service,” he says. “That will be a battle, whether you can have such large chambers and still give a personal service.”
Use of the local bar varies among the region's major solicitors' firms. Mike Shepherd, head of commercial dispute resolution at Hammond Suddards Edge, admits that “more often than not I would go to London. Some of my partners will use the Manchester bar but I haven't.”
Hammonds is slightly unusual, however, in that it also has an in-house advocacy team headed by Patrick Walker in Leeds and is the first firm of solicitors to be accredited to offer its own pupillage. “It's not an in-house bar,” says litigation partner Jan Levinson. “They've been brought in to effectively train up our in-house solicitors to get higher rights.”
Halliwell Landau recently recruited two barristers to work as dedicated in-house counsel in its Manchester office. Adrian Wallace, a common law generalist, joined from Peel Court Chambers in the city and Sadie James joined from King's Bench Chambers in Bournemouth.
It's a trend that doesn't worry Wingate-Saul. “Solicitors find the bar an extremely economic way to cover their advocacy. The fact that they have some of their own in-house advocates doesn't necessarily give them the flexibility that the law now requires.”