Earth to Quentin Poole: who are you trying to kid? Wragge & Co’s spin on its big-name hire of Herbert Smith’s Gerald Bland is that this is a pure property play. Really? For Wragges to get a practice going in London which ignores its mainstream business of corporate finance is like Allen & Overy launching an employment practice in San Francisco.
The softly-softly approach has served Wragges well so far. It hasn’t built out much from its acquisition of intellectual property boutique Needham & Grant in 2000, which at least helps along the commonly-held myth of Wragges being a single site firm.
One rather suspects the hire of Bland is a prelude to something else. Wragges’ London office currently turns over about £3m and it plans for property to generate around that in another three years. But at some point Wragges will have to go for something bigger. After all, no regional firm has ever managed to grow in London without a merger. DLA, Pinsents, Eversheds, Hammonds; they all made the brilliant mistake of launching in the City before realising they couldn’t compete unless they bulked up. Look at Addleshaw Booth & Co, which is currently wrestling with the same problem; two years in London and barely a ripple. The only way for Addleshaws to make any headway is to find critical mass quickly – and the same for Wragges.
But I’m not sure Wragges is interested in a London merger, although it has had plenty of offers. So what are its options? The management has had little or no interest in the Continent; Poole will never win an award for Europhilia. Rather, Wragges’ international focus has always been transatlantic, having begun to develop referral relationships with US firms 10 years ago. In other words, by beginning to build in London, Wragges is tacitly putting itself on the market for a US deal. Nothing else will do.
Finally, a postscript to our exclusive interview with former Andersen Legal senior partner Tony Williams on page 22. Perhaps one of the most notable things to come out of the sorry affair was the sense of solidarity within Garretts and the responsibility felt by the management to its staff. It seems that partnership still means something to lawyers, even if it means nothing to accountants.