High street first as multi-office firm takes £5m investment and targets legal aid growth

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13 February 2015


Riddle: "An office on every high street south of Bristol"

Riddle: “An office on every high street south of Bristol”

McMillan Williams (MW), which has 20 offices in London and the south of England, has become the first high street law firm to take external investment after securing a £5m private equity deal.

The firm, which obtains a quarter of its revenue from legal aid, has said its long-term goal is an office on every high street south of Bristol and a listing on AIM.

It also plans to increase revenue from publicly funded criminal work from £1m to 5m over the next few years.

MW, which converted to an alternative business structure at the start of this week, aims to use the funding from the Business Growth Fund (BGF) to open eight more offices and recruit 75 more solicitors and staff.

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David Riddle, commercial director at MW, said a stock exchange listing was a way of making the business “publicly accountable” while giving as much back to the equity partners as possible. Given the size of firm, he said the listing would be on AIM, which specialises in smaller, growing companies.

Mr Riddle said criminal work was “the key” to the firm’s expansion plans for legal aid. This would depend on whether the tendering process “lived up to expectations” but could see revenue grow from over £1m to £5m “by the time the dust settles”.

Mr Riddle went on: “As we get bigger and make costs savings due to economies of scale, we can service even less well-reimbursed work properly and in advance of the capability of other firms.”

Others areas targeted for expansion include commercial conveyancing, where there is only one full-time solicitor, financial settlements on divorce and mental health, funded by legal aid.

Mr Riddle said the firm opened a new HQ at London Bridge last month, which he expected to triple in size by the end of the year.

“Our growth plan is our exclusive focus for the next three to four years, to ensure we deliver to partners internally and externally. In five years’ time we want an office in every high street south of Bristol,” he said. “That is certainly the plan.”

However, he added: “The market is still simply too big for the traditional providers of services to be overpowered. There will always be a place for the small firms – on the high street, next to us.”

In return for its investment, BGF gets a minority stake in the law firm and Erin Hallock, senior investment manager, becomes a director.

“The management team has successfully grown the practice from five high street branches in 1995 to 20 today, and has achieved strong and consistent revenue and profit growth over the last five years,” Ms Hallock said.

“BGF can add real financial support and guidance to support management in their plan to open new sites in London and the south east. Their roll-out strategy is proven and future expansion therefore is eminently achievable.”

MW’s chief executive Colum Smith and chairman Dr Godfrey Ainsworth will retain their roles on an eight-strong board. MW aims to open offices in Wimbledon, Tunbridge Wells, Worthing and Ealing over the next few months.

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