From Wales to the Humber – market sees sudden spate of M&A

Farmer: Demand for specialist patent expertise on the rise

There has been a sudden spate of mergers and acquisitions in the legal market, led by Welsh firm Hugh James bringing in sports, charities and media practice Loosemores.

Mark Loosemore, fellow partners Siôn Tudur, Maria Cosslett and Karl Thomas, and 24 other staff are moving across Cardiff to Wales’s largest law firm.

Loosemores’ clients include the Football Association of Wales, Welsh Netball, Sport Wales and Tennis Wales.

Ioan Prydderch, head of the business division at Hugh James, said: “Our partnership will strengthen our existing teams and consolidate our position as one of the UK’s leading sports firms.”

The deal is the latest manifestation of Hugh James’ ‘Bigger, Bolder, Better’ five-year strategy. Last October, it acquired Manchester-based serious injury and clinical negligence firm Potter Rees Dolan.

London firm Lewis Silkin has acquired patent and trade mark firm Miller Sturt Kenyon. Managing director Andy Cloughley and director Matthew Turner join as partners, together with their nine-strong team.

Jo Farmer, joint managing partner at Lewis Silkin, said the firm was trying to position itself “as the go-to law firm for ideas and people-focused businesses both in the UK and in key centres of creativity around the world”.

She added: “Competitive advantage is increasingly driven by innovation, with technological advancements creating new opportunities to capture market share. Brands seeking to create, protect and commercialise their ideas has never been more important, and demand for specialist patent expertise is on the rise.

Mr Cloughley said the deal would provide his firm’s clients with “added depth of legal specialism in our key markets around the world”.

In Lincolnshire, Grimsby and Louth-based John Barkers has merged with Symes Bains Broomer in Goole to form the Humber Legal Group, with both firms retaining their own identities in their respective regions.

The move comes on the heels of John Barkers acquiring criminal defence firm Michael Culshaw & Co last week.

Jonathan Stones, chief executive of John Barkers, said: “Having a team of over 100 specialist lawyers and support staff across five sites will really enhance our ability to support the region in its legal requirements.

“We can see that further consolidation of the legal market is likely and our model allows this to be done quickly for other businesses that share our vision.”

Shropshire firm Lanyon Bowdler has transferred its criminal department to Welsh firm Richard George & Jenkins, which has opened a Shrewsbury office as a result.

Adrian Roberts, who was head of Lanyon Bowdler’s criminal department, said: “I hope this move will be welcomed by our clients because it enables us all to keep working together, albeit with a different name above the door.”

Other recent deals saw Manchester firm Slater Heelis enter insolvency work after acquiring four-strong Altrincham-based specialist firm NJ Goodman & Co, and Cumbrian solicitor Shirley M Evans merge her Grange-over-Sands practice into Kendal-based firm Arnold Greenwood.

Meanwhile, legal and professional services group Ampa – which owns Shakespeare Martineau amongst its ‘house of brands’ – has launched new corporate finance boutique called Coadax.

It is headed by Mukesh Bulsara, who joined Ampa two years ago from accountants MHA MacIntyre Hudson, where he was head of M&A and corporate finance services for the Midlands.

It is the third non-legal brand within Ampa, after planning firm Marrons and cyber-security company CSS Assure.

Ampa chief executive Sarah Walker-Smith said: “As we continue to develop the Ampa group, we are fulfilling our commitments to support businesses at every stage of their lifecycle. Coadax is a clear fit for helping us to meet the needs of clients across the group and wider business community.”

According to accountants Hazlewoods, there was an increase in M&A in the legal market last year, from 99 deals in 2021 to 122 in 2022. This reverses a general downward trend over the past decade or more, from a high of 278 deals in 2011.

Ian Johnson, associate partner at Hazlewoods says: “After two sluggish years, M&A activity between law firms has come back to life. Expansion-minded law firms are feeling more confident about acquisitions of firms with very specific expertise or those firms that have been struggling with their profitability.

“A very tight labour market that made it hard to recruit lawyers and grow organically, that makes growing by acquisition look more attractive.”

He added that one reason for fewer mergers in 2021 may be that partners in firms that had performed surprisingly well in the earlier stages of Covid were deferring their retirement and so did not need to merge.

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