The year has kicked off with a spate of law firm expansion activity, whether through mergers, huge team hires, file acquisitions or one Essex law firm maintaining EU links by opening in Malta.
Yorkshire law firm Switalskis has acquired Atherton Godfrey for an undisclosed sum, in a move that creates a £20m turnover business.
Atherton Godfrey will continue to operate under its name, and its Doncaster office and 130 staff mean that the Switalskis Group now employ 380 staff across 12 offices across Yorkshire.
Three of Atherton Godfrey’s four partners are becoming directors of Switalskis, with managing partner Don Bird stepping down from the role and joining as a consultant.
Switalskis managing director John Durkan said: “Over the coming weeks and months, we will work on maximising the synergies and benefits that will flow from bringing the two firms together, as well as identifying new opportunities that will see the combined group go from strength to strength.”
Mr Bird said the “additional network and resources” of the Switalskis Group would help Atherton Godfrey build its business further.
In London, employment, business immigration and regulatory practice Constantine Law – which operates a dispersed model, with lawyers working from home – has merged with employment firm Hine Legal. The 11 lawyers will operate under the Constantine brand.
Constantine Law managing partner John Hayes said the deal was “a great boost to our offering and the way we work”.
He predicted that Covid-19, Brexit and preparing for April’s changes to the IR35 off-payroll working rules meant demand for employment law services would continue to be strong.
“We are delighted we will have greater resources to help look after our clients My plan is to grow the business further to 20 practitioners over the course of the next few years.”
Nick Hine said: “I believe Constantine Law and Hine Legal will be stronger together… We will now have a national practice covering London, the Midlands and the North able to service any clients’ employment, immigration and regulatory needs.”
Kennedys has opened an office in Leeds – its 12th in the UK and 42nd globally – after acquiring the 36-strong insurance team from York and Lincoln firm Langleys.
David Thompson, formerly managing partner and head of insurance at Langleys, heads up the new office with three other partners moving over too.
Richard West, partner and head of liability at Kennedys, said the office grew the firm’s personal injury division.
“Leeds is recognised as a hub for insurance work and we see real opportunities to expand our legal and claims handling team building further on David and his team’s significant client base which will benefit hugely from the breadth of Kennedys full-service insurance offering.”
Tim Cross, managing partner of Langleys, said: “While there is naturally some sadness in seeing our friends and colleagues leave the firm, this is a move that benefits everyone, allowing Langleys to focus on growing its core specialisms and explore new opportunities within the Yorkshire and Lincolnshire regions it serves.
“It also enables the insurance team to benefit from being part of a larger, international insurance division within Kennedys.”
Mr Cross said Langleys would now focus on its commercial and private client divisions, as well as its residential conveyancing business, Home Property Lawyers.
The firm will find new competition on its home turf, however, as Shakespeare Martineau has opened an office in Lincoln by hiring partners Jonathan Stork, a litigator, and Michael Squirrell, a corporate and commercial specialist, from Wilkin Chapman, with an unnamed employment partner set to join the firm too.
Shakespeare Martineau last year announced an ambitious strategy  to double its £71m turnover by 2023 through adding both legal and related services, potentially under their own brands.
Duncan James, its East Midlands regional head, said: “We work with several clients in Lincoln already, including those in the education, tech, energy and agriculture sectors – so it’s a no brainer to have an on-the-ground presence. Lincolnshire holds a lot of potential.”
Manchester firm Express Solicitors has bought 750 road traffic accident, employer’s liability and clinical negligence files from an unnamed firm exiting the personal injury market, on the back of acquiring Liverpool firm McKays  and 1,400 ongoing matters in November. Express now has over 17,000 active cases.
Managing partner James Maxey said: “This second acquisition will help us to continue our aim to become the number one consumer claims specialist firm in the UK. We have grown steadily over the last 3 years to a position just below the top 100 law firms.”
Essex law firm Birkett Long has opened a new office in Malta, seemingly the first UK firm in the country.
It said the office meant the firm has a European footprint and will be able to maintain its rights of audience in front of the EU Intellectual Property Office, which it said many firms have lost as a result of Brexit.
The firm has recruited Maltese intellectual property (IP) specialist Dr Rachel Genovese to support its work.
IP head Jonathan Perlmutter said it was looking to exploit “the insight that Essex provides a corridor between London and mainland Europe and is one of the entrepreneurial and industrial heartlands of the country”.
He added: “We are really pleased with the rapid, Covid-defying growth of the Intellectual Property offering at Birkett Long, which has recently seen us undertaking work for leading car manufacturers, technology and infrastructure giants and the US government, as well as companies of all sizes across the county and the country.”
Finally, Bristol-based TLT has entered into a strategic alliance with Belgian law firm GSJ, hot on the heels of a similar arrangement with Netherlands law firm Holla last June.
It said: “Belgium’s status as a central hub for European business and its significant position at the heart of the EU will be of increasing importance for clients, given the UK’s recent exit from the EU.”
TLT said the development of an alliance of firms in key European countries, the US and India is part of its strategy to develop its international proposition and service for clients.