Osbornes seeks deal on gardening leave

Osborne Clarke

is seeking to strike a deal to reduce the period of gardening leave placed on a four-lawyer residential property team it hired from fellow Bristol-based firm Clarke Willmott last week.

As reported on www. thelawyer.com (4 October), Osborne Clarke raided its rival for the team led by head of residential development David Powell.

Accompanying Powell, who will head up Osborne’s residential redevelopment practice, are partners Karen Wallis and Jamie Kyd, and associate Michelle McGurl.

However, all four lawyers are tied to six months’ gardening leave under the terms of their contracts.

Osborne Clarke’s managing partner Simon Beswick said: “We are willing to come to an agreement with Clarke Willmott and we want to make sure that no clients get caught in the crossfire.”

But Clarke Willmott managing partner David Sedgwick said that the firm was not considering shortening the departees’ gardening leave. “As far as I’m concerned they have resigned and, in accordance with the terms of the deed, they are at home.”

The departures are a blow to Clarke Willmott’s real estate ambitions and follow a sustained period of aggressive expansion.

Fourteen of the firm’s total 25 lateral hires during the last three financial years have been in the property group. A further two specialists were promoted to the partnership over the same period.

More recently, the firm’s Birmingham real estate team snared the hire of Hammonds property finance director Jane Kemp (www.thelawyer.com, 15 September).

However, Powell had been considered one of Clarke Willmott’s star partners, having sat on the firm’s management board.

Sedgwick said: “The house-building industry is one of our key sectors and obviously this is unwelcome and a nuisance. But we still have a huge property practice, and Powell’s team represents only a very small part of our turnover.

“I’m not going to say it isn’t a setback because it is, but it’s not the end of our world.”

Sedgwick added that the firm was in talks to make further property hires, including partners, within 12 months. Clarke Willmott’s property team numbers 100 lawyers, and accounts for 30 per cent of the total revenue.

The raid bolsters Osborne Clarke’s property group to 84 lawyers. Beswick said that the hires would fill a gap in the firm’s property capability for residential expertise.