Moat: synergy benefits

AIM-listed Fairpoint Group wants to see its soon-to-be-acquired law firm, Simpson Millar, become a recognised consumer legal brand, its chief executive has told Legal Futures.

Chris Moat also confirmed that the financial backing Simpson Millar now has will enable it to accelerate its acquisition activity.

Mr Moat said Fairpoint – whose non-executive chairman is former SJ Berwin senior partner David Harrel – had been diversifying its business for several years. “We look at our core competencies and bring them to bear in new markets,” he explained.

The “whole objective” of the deal is to create a consumer brand, of which there are few in the legal market, Mr Moat said.

Simpson Millar managing partner Peter Watson added, in written answers to our questions: “Simpson Millar already has one of the strongest brands in the UK’s consumer legal space. Our lawyers frequently act on significant reported cases and public awareness of our brand is further enhanced by the firm’s successful online strategy.

“Now with the support of the Fairpoint Group and their extensive knowledge of consumer personal finance marketing, we hope to accelerate that activity and take advantage of numerous cross-selling opportunities available to both sides of the business.”

Fairpoint looked through 100 firms over the last six months before settling on Simpson Millar; the problem with most was that they were run as a series of small legal practices rather than companies, Mr Moat said.

He said the way the insolvency market has changed provided the blueprint for legal services – rather than it all being handled by licensed insolvency practitioners, the bulk of the work is now processed by administrative staff, supported by a “relatively small number” of insolvency practitioners and technology.

He suggested that relying on an individual to do a “deep dive” on each case was less reliable than having a “robust system with exception reporting” that flagged up cases outside the norm. Simpson Millar has already made “good strides” in this direction because of its personal injury practice and the changes that have been forced on that sector.

Mr Moat acknowledged, however, that this was only applicable to certain tasks – “we want to make sure the lawyers are spending most of their time applying their knowledge, not doing administration”.

While the pair wait for approval from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (Simpson Millar is already an alternative business structure), they will be “developing plans to deliver synergy benefits”, the former insurance man said. This will include offering legal services to Fairpoint’s debt customers, who are often in that position because of legal issues, such as losing their jobs.

Simpson Millar has made “good progress” with acquisitions, he said, but being part of a large group, with the access to capital that provides, will allow this activity to accelerate.

Simpson Millar’s more recent acquisitions include education specialist MG Law and family practice McAra’s, as well as buying a number of teams and client portfolios, such as the care homes division of Barnetts Solicitors and “a substantial volume of work” from Lindsay’s in Liverpool.

Mr Watson said there was no specific target for acquisitions. “However, acquisition activity remains a key component of our growth plans and we now enjoy an increased capability to make more as a result of being part of the Fairpoint Group.”

He would not reveal what happened with Slater & Gordon, which nearly a year ago announced that it was to acquire Simpson Millar, but did say that “we have not been actively engaged in talks with Slater & Gordon since summer 2013”.

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