Mills & Reeve’s Guy Hinchley: We’re on the hunt in Leeds

“It’s been a good year at the office,” says Mills & Reeve managing partner Guy Hinchley.

He’s talking off the back of a set of financial results that will be pleasing for the firm: revenue for 2013/14 was up by more than 12 per cent, to £79.5m.

Some of that is down to Mills & Reeve’s summer 2013 merger with Manchester’s George Davies (24 Apr 2013). But not all of it.

The merger accounted for about two thirds of the revenue rise, says Hinchley. The rest has come from organic growth.

Hinchley points to real estate as an area that has had a particularly good year, citing a matter where an American real estate investment trust (REIT) acquired three UK hospitals in a £110m transaction.

“We have a strong sector focus, so that hit two Mills & Reeve sweet spots in healthcare and real estate investment,” he says.

The banking team has also had a good year, with revenue up 40 per cent, while in the ‘challenges’ column, the firm is grappling with how to deal with pressures on pricing from NHS clients.

With about a year to run on the firm’s current strategic plan, the question of what the firm does next arises. Over the last decade Mills & Reeve has moved from its ancestral patch in East Anglia out into Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and London, but it doesn’t like to define itself in the same way as other national firms such as Eversheds and DLA Piper.

“In our current strategic plan we say that we’re committed to the major regional centres in the UK, whereas perhaps some of the other nationals are currently focusing on London and abroad,” says Hinchley.

Growing the Leeds office is a key objective for the coming year.

“We haven’t been able to find the equivalent of a George Davies in Leeds, so we’ll be looking to bring in senior lateral hires as well as potentially transferring senior talent to the office,” Hinchley confirms.

What of The Lawyer’s recent report on Leeds (21 Jul 2014), which detailed the city’s recent travails?

“We still think it’s a good region for us,” Hinchley insists. “It’s still got a large economy, including a large agricultural economy which is a big sector for us, a lot of universities and NHS Trust clients. There are a lot of good firms there, but we found a lot of good firms in Birmingham when we first moved there and it’s now our second-biggest office. We’ll focus on providing a quality offering in sectors that we are particularly good at.”

And does the commitment to the UK’s regional hubs come at the expense of London or seeking out international work?

“We talk a lot about having an international approach from a UK base and have key best friend firms,” adds Hinchley. ”Twenty per cent of our turnover was international last year.”

Mills & Reeve’s London office shrank slightly last year, bringing in £4.9m of revenue in 2013/14, compared to £5.1m the year before.

Hinchley says having the insurance-focused office has given the firm a stronger position with big clients in that sector, but that much of the actual work it brings in is then completed in the regions.

A likely bolt-on for London, though, is a private wealth team.

“We’re definitely trying to bring in high-net-worth private client tax lawyers with international clients,” Hinchley adds.