Pinsents regional chief embarks upon rebuilding Manchester

Pinsent Masons‘ Manchester office has seen it all in the past 12 months, including partner defections, a hiring spree and a refocus of firm strategy. But where some people see turbulent times, regional head Carl Garvie sees opportunities.

In the past two weeks Garvie secured the hire of highly rated corporate partner Stephen Levy from Hammonds and partner Chris Moss from Halliwells.

The two hires are the result of Garvie’s quest to rebuild the Manchester office following the loss of seven partners during the course of the past 12 months.

And he does not want to stop there. “The intention is to significantly grow, with the aim being to drive the office up to the level of Leeds and Birmingham,” he says.

After completing a strategy review in June, Garvie and his Manchester management outlined an ambitious growth plan.

In the pipeline is at least one more partner hire this year and a concerted push on cross-selling the property, corporate, banking and commercial litigation practice areas. But one of the first things that needs to be done is to address the issue of departing partners. Four partners have left this year, with a five-lawyer team joining regional rival Eversheds in March.

Problems integrating the Pinsent Curtis Biddle and Masons Manchester offices during the past 18 months hit morale at the merged firm – a situation exacerbated further by partner raids from Cobbetts, Pannone and Halliwells.

Garvie says operating in two offices in Manchester – Masons’ Barbirolli Square and Pinsents’ office in The Chancery – damaged communication at a time when the two firms should have been gelling. “We’re all under one roof now and we can’t underestimate the importance of that. Being on two sites doesn’t help,” he says.

Pinsents now has one office in Barbirolli Square and is looking to move into a new office by mid-2008 to accommodate the plans for growth. It has now been six months since a partner left.

Former partner Patrick Kennedy – the first to leave in July 2005 to Halliwells – says: “If you were in one office you’d just get on and do your own thing. I think Carl’s got a point.”

Kennedy says holding on tightly to the legacy Masons construction and energy team, led by Chris Hughes, has helped the firm ride out the corporate departures. But going forward the key will be not how many partners come, but how many associates stay.

Garvie says the office needs more associates, but that the issue at hand is growth rather than gearing. “What we’re really in the market for is quality assistants in property, corporate, banking and finance,” he says. “In the medium term, up to two and half years away, we’re looking to put on about 25-30 associates.”

Like London, Manchester is experiencing a drought of two to five year-qualified lawyers with experience of corporate transactions. If Pinsents is to make any real profit out of corporate work it needs more associates to rack up the hours.

A revival is certainly on the cards after a restless year for Pinsents in Manchester, but it will still take time for Garvie to meld the new partners with the associates so as to start achieving the growth he hopes for.