First construction ABS as global consultancy buys law firm to offer multi-disciplinary service

Dubai metro: a Systech project

An alternative business structure (ABS) licence has opened the door to a global consultancy that project manages aspects of some of the world’s largest infrastructure and energy projects buying a specialist construction law practice.

SLS Solicitors Limited, which already trades as Systech Solicitors, will become part of Systech International, which will now offer legal, commercial and technical services to its clients under one brand.

Systech has 28 offices around the world and manages multi-million dollar projects including those associated with the $2.6bn (£1.7bn) Dubai metro light rail system, the US nuclear programme, and the new $7.2bn Doha international airport in Qatar.

The law firm, which was established five years ago and has 20 lawyers, is one of the UK’s largest niche construction and engineering practices.

The ABS is regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). Brian Quinn, a dual-qualified solictor and barrister who is Systech Solicitors’ managing director, will be its compliance officers for both legal practice and finance and administration.

He told Legal Futures that his practice was independent and had “very little client share with Systech until about a year ago”, but had taken advantage of an SRA relaxation of shared branding with commercial entities in the year before ABSs were due to begin in October 2011. Before founding SLS, he worked for the construction sector consultancy giant, Knowles Plc, for 15 years and was its CEO.

In recent months there had been “good cross-fertilisation of client bases” between Systech and the firm, he said. Clients in the construction sector – where disputes often involve a “mix of legal, commercial and technical” problems – “like the prospect of single responsibility, that we can now bring under one banner”, he said.

Systech Solicitors “will very much maintain our own client base as well” within the ABS, said Mr Quinn, and he pointed out that the firm currently advises on UK and global disputes worth tens of millions of Euros. But he looked forward to greater closeness with the parent group, which up to now had “introduced us to some serious blue-chip clients who then use us or don’t use us on our own merits. To have a seat on the board table will be a real advantage to us.”

He added: “Hopefully the ABS for us gives us prospects to expose ourselves to a wider client base and access more capital.” In his experience the growth of a firm “tends to be in plateaus” and the “external assistance that Systech International will provide will hopefully take us to the next stage”.

But Mr Quinn said the secret to building a successful business “is to grow cautiously and make sure that your quality is maintained, which you can’t do if you push on too fast”. He continued: “We’ll be pushing on with great ambition but it will be a measured push.”

He complained that the ABS application process had taken more than a year: “You want our profession to be safeguarded but the process was arduous and I think unnecessarily long-winded.”

Systech International’s managing director, Mark Woodward-Smith, said: “We are delighted to have this opportunity to move further towards our ambition of being the largest and most trusted brand in the construction and engineering sector. This move is the culmination of five years’ work and was prompted by our clients’ needs and desires for greater efficiency and competition in the legal services sector.”


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