Regional: the South West

An amicable split

Separations are not usually a cause for celebration, but Ashfords has been quick to mark the one-year anniversary of its demerger from Bevan Brittan.

For those that can’t remember, Ashfords took the offices in Exeter, Plymouth, Taunton and Tiverton and a practice focused on corporate finance and commercial law. Bevan Brittan secured the offices in Birmingham, Bristol and London, with a project-based practice.

A triumphant press release from Ashfords highlights the firm’s achievements over the last year, including a 10 per cent increase in headcount since the split. In the last six months alone, the firm has recruited four new partners, most recently hiring General Motors general counsel Lesley Galvin to start its corporate commercial push in Plymouth.

Bevan Brittan, on the other hand, has taken a more low-key approach to its demerger. A source at the firm said there were no plans to mark the occasion, but Bevan Brittan has been ramping up its own team, recruiting Hugo Coetzee as a partner into its London practice from Norton Rose and Peter Brazel, the former head of Stephenson Harwood‘s commercial, outsourcing and technology group, to lead its outsourcing transactions practice.

The split has been one of the most amicable in legal history and it is reported that the firms shared a final dinner this autumn to complete the demerger late last month. But no doubt both firms are watching the fortunes of the other very closely.

Tettmar to lead Bond Pearce

Bond Pearce is set for a shake-up following the announcement that the firm will have a new managing partner from next year.

As first revealed on (13 October), Bristol-based banking and restructuring partner Victor Tettmar will take over the managing partner role in February 2006, replacing Simon Richardson, who has been in the post for seven years.

Tettmar takes over a firm in pretty good shape. Recent highlights include beating five other firms to provide legal advice to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and completing a seven-figure investment deal for Plymouth-based broadcasting company Twofour Group.

Tettmar says he wanted the firm to develop as the leading commercial law firm in the South West along the three sector lines of energy, retail and insurance. He aims to achieve this by expanding its regional client base, as well as servicing its national clients.

The firm has certainly got its sights set high, with ambitions to move in to the top 50 of The Lawyer UK 100 Annual Report next year. Bond Pearce ranked 57 for 2005 with a turnover of £40.1m for 2004-05. Tettmar expects that figure to rise by 10 per cent during the current financial year, which at current levels would be enough to push into the top half of the table.

But rivals are raising questions as to what will happen to the firm’s insolvency practice once Tettmar takes up the role of managing partner. One partner at a rival South West firm says that Bond Pearce arguably has the best insolvency practice in the region, which was largely down to Tettmar’s leadership. But the source questioned whether his new role would leave the practice vulnerable. Tettmar, though, has no worries about the practice. “The team’s strong enough without me,” he says.

Bond Pearce is well on its way to rivalling Osborne Clarke and Burges Salmon as the top two firms in the South West based on turnover, but Tettmar will have to tackle the firm’s profit per equity partner (£213,000 for 2004-05) before it can be said to be competing at the same level.

Osborne Clarke bolsters London

Osborne Clarke has continued to ramp up its London office with another hire. As first revealed on (1 November), the latest addition is former Lovells financial services specialist Paul Anning, taking the number of partners in the office to 34.

The hire is Osborne Clarke’s second into its City office this year and follows the recruitment of senior associate Simon Neil from Norton Rose in May.

Osborne Clarke sees the London office as vital to the firm’s strategy. It has put a lot of investment into its London office, not just through partner hires but also in its office space. Last year the firm moved into swanky new premises at One London Wall, taking up the sixth and seventh floors, as reported by The Lawyer (7 July).

Managing partner Simon Beswick comments: “The London office is a key component to Osborne Clarke and we want to be one of the established City players.” But despite the supposed benefits of having a London base, South West firms are divided over whether a London presence is necessary to building a successful practice. Of the six South West firms that feature in The Lawyer UK 100, four operate London offices, with two sticking solely to the South West region (Burges Salmon and Clarke Willmott).

Burges Salmon, Osborne Clarke’s biggest rival in the South West, makes no bones about its non-London policy. A spokesperson for the firm explains: “We’re one of the most profitable firms in the region and we’re getting high-level work without being in London.”

Burges Salmon may be unusual in its stance, but it says clients do not seem to care. “Find me one client that says you need to be in London,” stressed the spokesperson.

Thring Townsend swoops on Laytons

It is not just the big firms making the news. Thring Townsend has picked up the Bristol office of Laytons after the latter lost a string of partners.

As reported in The Lawyer (31 October), the new office gives Thring Townsend its first Bristol base, and the firm has already earmarked it for aggressive expansion. The firm is particularly well known for private client work and sees a gap in the Bristol market for high-end private client advice. It will also seek to build on the office’s existing commercial property and insolvency platforms.

The new addition gives Thring Townsend a total of three offices, including Bath and Swindon, and takes its revenue up to an estimated £14m.

Firm Turnover £m PEP £K Total partners
Firm Turnover £m PEP £K Total partners
Osborne Clarke 66.7 360 92
Burges Salmon 45.4 363 62
Bond Pearce 40.1 213 63
Bevan Brittan 37.3 209 58
Clarke Willmott 33.4 215 57
TLT Solicitors 21.5 210 51
Ashfords 19.5 225 44

  Source: The Lawyer UK 100 Annual report