ABS update: US energy specialists set up in London, plus Fairpoint, Metamorph and Irwin Mitchell news

Crowell: Lawyers may not be the best managers

Peace Crowell, a niche US firm specialising in energy and infrastructure projects, has opened a London office as an alternative business structure (ABS).

Managing partner Jason Crowell told Legal Futures that the firm, based in San Diego, California, probably had more expertise in nuclear new builds than any of its rivals.

“There are not many law firms that understand nuclear projects,” he said. “Most of our work is international – in the Gulf, or further east. The projects are big and often involve multiple governments.”

Peace Crowell is currently advising the developer of the first nuclear power plant in the United Arab Emirates – the largest nuclear construction project in the world.

Mr Crowell said he wanted the firm’s London office to be an ABS to allow non-lawyer ownership.

“This is a bit of a novelty for us. California has more traditional rules about law firm ownership. It’s good to have a level of flexibility and allow greater participation by non-attorneys.

“I recognise that attorneys are as good as possible at what they do, but they may not be the best managers.”

Mr Crowell said the firm was “financially very healthy” and not looking for external investment.

He is joined in the London office by managing counsel Alex Cosgrove, two associate solicitors, chief officer of finance and administration Cindy Crowell and two support staff.

In other ABS news, Simpson Millar has announced that it had sold its financial services division to the subsidiary’s managing director, James Mann, for an undisclosed amount.

Simpson Millar Financial Services specialises in advice on how to invest personal injury and medical negligence compensation awards. It will be renamed Dune Financial Planning and accept referrals from other professional services firms.

Mr Mann said: “I’m confident in Dune Financial Planning as a stand-alone brand. Advising clients on how to invest their legal settlements is a niche area that benefits from real specialist advice and experience.”

Greg Cox, managing partner of Simpson Millar, said the disposal of its financial services arm was part of a “strategic plan” for the law firm “to focus on core legal services activities”.

Dune will continue to service the clients of Simpson Millar Financial Services without interruption and there will be no staff losses.

Fairpoint Group plc, the AIM-listed company that owned Simpson Millar, went into administration earlier this month, but stressed that the law firm would continue trading.

In an announcement to the market yesterday, Fairpoint said: “The joint administrators have confirmed that, based on current information, there is no prospect of a return to equity shareholders of Fairpoint Group plc.”

Meanwhile, ABS consolidator Metamorph Law has acquired a conveyancing team from the failed former QualitySolicitors firm Gregsons. The team will operate under Metamorph’s Linder Myers brand.

Gregsons had offices in Birkenhead, Crosby and Flint before it entered administration last week. Two separate and unrelated law firms are also called Gregsons – a long-established firm in Wimbledon, south-west London, and a sole practice in Nottingham.

Alan Webb, group managing director of Metamorph, said: “We have a pipeline of deals that we are currently working on and expect to make further announcements before the end of the year as these complete.

“We continue to look for opportunities to add suitable firms or practices in all parts of the country.”

Finally, Irwin Mitchell has announced a 6.3% increase in revenue for 2016/17 to £235.2m. Profit before tax was £12.3m, a shade below the previous year.

The firm said 2016/17 had seen the successful integration of Thomas Eggar, the personal injury division’s “strongest ever outcome for new business”, the launch of Irwin Mitchell Private Wealth and a partnership between the firm’s business legal services division and the Confederation of British Industry.

Andrew Tucker, group chief executive of Irwin Mitchell, added: “I’m very optimistic about the opportunities across the group and our strength in breadth gives us a great platform to build on.”

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