Recruiters: Cobbetts was continuing to hire lawyers up until December

Cobbetts was recruiting associates as recently as December 2012, with many recruiters that work with the firm expressing shock that it is planning to go into administration.

Recruiters across the country have said they are already getting calls from “surprised” fee-earners following the news that the firm is set to enter administration.

While most admit that there has been uncertainty at the firm for some time, few have noticed an increase in staff wanting to leave the firm in recent months.

“We can track this travesty back to the Government,” said Manchester-based Douglas Scott Legal Recruitment legal head Katherine Riley. “It’s insane that they’re taking a wrecking ball to legal services at a time when they’re supposed to be dragging people out of a recession.”

Other recruiters in Manchester, where Cobbetts is headquartered, said they have already received a number of emails from firms eager to “react quickly” to the proposed administration.

“The trend will be to see chunks of Cobbetts people move en mass,” said one Manchester-based recruiter. “Most people will be speaking internally today and will call us later on in week.”

Meanwhile, the reaction in the Birmingham legal market has also been of quiet disbelief.

“There’s been some attrition but nothing that’s stood out compared with other firms in the market right now, so it’s been a bit of a surprise that the firm has gone into administration,” commented one recruiter based in the city.

The recruiter added that no one has been more surprised than the firm’s fee-earners, saying. “It’s been a big surprise to fee-earners and our phone has been ringing off the hook today. We received a lot of calls when the [DWF] merger talks were going on last year, but after they fell apart the phone calls subsided, until today.”

The sense in the Birmingham market is that the latest developments may reignite merger talks with DWF, which has had an office in the city since July 2011, when it poached Shoosmiths’ head of asset finance Joanna Davis to launch the Midlands hub (28 July 2011). Many recruiters believe that the firm’s aggressive hiring campaign over the past year, which includes a tie-up with Midlands insurance firm Buller Jeffries (2 April 2012) and lateral hires such as drafting in Eversheds employment and pensions partner Mark Hammerton, could continue if any of Cobbetts’ lawyers decided to jump ship.

“It’s been no secret that DWF has been on the look out for a corporate team in Birmingham and possibly if the merger had gone through then this would have had a big impact on the market,” noted one source. “It’s not surprising to think that now Cobbetts is in administration the corporate team might jump ship to DWF.”

“I’d be amazed if there wasn’t some kind of resurrection of a deal with DWF,” added another recruiter.

Cobbetts is the first major UK law firm to consider filing for administration since fellow Manchester firm Halliwells collapsed in 2010 (25 June 2010). In March 2012 Manchester firm Donns filed for administration with Irwin Mitchell among the number to pick up its work in progress (23 March 2012). It was also one of several firms that opted to slash its newly qualified pay rate in 2011, reducing pay by 20 per cent from £37k to £31k.

See Cobbetts’ path to administration here.