Rivals ready to swoop for Bevan Brittan redundancies

Rivals ready to swoop for <a class=Bevan Brittan redundancies” />The sharks are circling Bevan Brittan. News this week of up to 40 redundancies (TheLawyer.com,13 May) at the Bristol-headquartered firm has sparked a feeding frenzy among local competitors.

“We could stand outside their offices with a sign inviting people to join us and we know they’d come,” says one Bristol senior partner at a rival firm.

Another adds: “In the past we’ve picked up some excellent lawyers from Bevan, so we have our headhunters looking at it right now to see what we can do.”

In January Bevan chief executive Stuart Whitfield told The Lawyer: “We’re reshaping the practice since the demerger and it takes a while to build things back up.”

When it demerged from Ashfords in November 2004 it was presumed by many that, by keeping its Bristol office while Ashfords focused on its Devon sites, Bevan would become the more successful of the two.

Almost four years later and the signs are that, despite picking up a series of panel wins, including Motorola and the Met Office, Bevan’s lawyers are not entirely satisfied with how things have turned out.

One former partner blames the leaseback deal on the firm’s property for slowing the figures; the deal shored up its profit per equity partner figure for 2006-07 by £235,919 to £377,919.

Without this deal the PEP figure for the past three years would have looked erratic. In 2005, after the firm demerged from Ashfords, PEP stood at £245,000. In 2006 it rose to £299,000. Taking out the profit on the property deal, in 2007 Bevan partners would have made £142,000 – less than half the previous year’s figure and lower than at Bond Pearce and Penningtons, which languished at the bottom of the PEP table of the top 100 firms, according to The Lawyer UK 200 2007.

“The partners must be miserable,” says the former partner. “The property deal they did took up a lot of attention and manpower. Those people really should have been concentrating on their accounts.”

Whitfield rejects this, saying: “The income we derived from the deal has been transparently reported and I’d stress that it’s never caused us to deviate from our commitment to our core business, our clients and our staff.”

However, another former partner says: “There have been lots of good things happening at Bevan over the last few years. But it’s got into a tangle and how it wants to portray itself has become separated from reality.”

With up to 40 redundancies, including up to six fee-earners (four from commercial and two from property, planning and construction), Bevan is planning to implement a new strategy – one it is reluctant to talk about until the consultation period is completed.

Whitfield ;admits: ;”With ;any announcement of this nature we’d expect scrutiny.” Yet he remains bullish about the justification behind the redundancy programme and is determined to stand by the firm. “This week’s announcement demonstrates that the management team has the courage to take bold, decisive action when it’s in the long-term interests of the firm. We’re proactively shaping the firm so that we take full advantage of the next cycle,” he says.

Whitfield insists that the leaseback deal was innovative. Indeed, it has seen the firm shortlisted for three awards, including coming second to Allen & Overy in the Managing Partners’ Forum Awards for best management facilities.

“Our property deal was far from a quick fix,” says Whitfield. “It was, by any measure, a carefully planned and well-thought-through piece of business that’s delivered value to the partnership.”