The consolidation of the personal injury market following the whiplash reforms has continued in the North-West with leading firm Express Solicitors acquiring Michael W Halsall (MWH).
James Maxey, Express Solicitors’ managing partner, said he had more deals lined up as the Manchester firm aimed to become the number one claimant personal injury practice in the country.
Ian Halsall, son of founder Michael and one of the two vendors, said they had put MWH, based in Newton-le-Willows, Lancashire, into run-off because of the launch of the Official Injury Claim portal.
MWH’s most recent accounts, for the year to 30 April 2022, record turnover falling from £15.2m to £11.7m, with profit down from £4m to £1.8m. Staff numbers were reduced from 130 to 80.
This has continued apace since, with Express taking on 2,500 cases and the remaining 37 staff, meaning its active caseload is now over 20,000, with more than 450 staff.
MWH will continue to operate from its offices under the Express Solicitors brand, with Kimberley Kirkby, head of RTA at Express, leading the integration. She will be based partly from the Newton-le-Willows office for the foreseeable future.
MWH, which was founded in 1987, focused on road traffic accident (RTA) claims, whereas Express handles all types of personal injury matters.
Mr Halsall said: “We are very pleased to find a suitable firm to look after our staff, the firm’s heritage and finding the right fit was very important to us. We are pleased to see during our dealings with Express Solicitors that they are committed to client care, staff welfare and progression and wish them every success.”
Express has grown rapidly over the past five years, with turnover rocketing from £18m in 2017 to £42m this year, making it one of the few personal injury firms in The Lawyer’s top 100. It has recruited 241 employees in the past 12 months alone, before the MWH deal, with seven at partner level.
The firm also has the ambition to become the UK’s largest provider of training contracts – it currently has 62 trainees.
In November 2020, Express made good on its stated plan to buy practices looking to exit the market by buying McKays in Liverpool, acquiring 1,400 ongoing client matters across a range of practice areas and keeping 18 members of staff in a job.
Mr Maxey told Legal Futures that it should not be difficult to find the MWH staff work to do after its cases are all concluded as Express currently has around 50 job openings anyway.
He said: “We approach getting work into our firm either by our own organic marketing or occasionally we buy firms or caseloads – sometimes a pre-pack or a firm winding down, or a firm spinning off its PI practice. We are already talking to a number of future prospects.”
Mr Maxey said he was not surprised that firms were leaving the RTA market but added: “I’ve always thought the consolidation would be a marathon and not a sprint.”
He added that Express still did RTA work “and always will” – there were a lot of more serious cases that fell outside of the Official Injury Claim portal.
This month, Express staff will also receive a one-off cost of living payment equivalent to one week’s basic pay.