London calling: Three capital deals lead way in latest M&A

Barrow: Merger aligns with our strategy

Leading south coast law firm Lester Aldridge is boosting its London presence after agreeing a deal to acquire Mackrell, the largest of the deals announced recently.

Meanwhile, three large firms have signalled their intentions to grow in part through acquisition.

Lester Aldridge is headquartered in Bournemouth and also has offices in Southampton and London, where it has 16 lawyers, but Mackrell will add nearly 50 staff, as well as office in Birmingham.

The acquisition will take effect from September and together the firms will have around 400 staff.

Mackrell also founded an international network, which has 90 firms with around 4,500 lawyers in 60 countries.

Matthew Barrow, managing partner of Lester Aldridge, said: “This merger aligns with our strategy, and brings together two thriving firms who share a common culture of client-centred service, teamwork and innovation.”

Also growing its London presence is Thames Valley law firm BP Collins, which has taken over West London law firm Cathcarts. Eight people specialising in property and private client matters have moved over, adding Ickenham to offices in Gerrards Cross, Thame and the City of London.

BP Collins now has more than 100 staff, including 60 lawyers. Senior partner Simon Deans said: “This deal will serve to add depth and breadth to our offering and help us expand our existing presence in London.

“It is a significant milestone in both firms’ histories and will bring many benefits through our shared values and vision for the future.”

HCR Law has added specialist London healthcare firm Ridouts after the latter went into administration on 9 May.

HCR declined to confirm how many people have joined but Ridouts’ most recent accounts said it employed 12 people. Ridouts’ services included advice on safeguarding, commissioning contracts and handling regulator prosecutions.

Rebecca Leask, head of healthcare at HCR said: “Healthcare providers need access to the full range of legal services, from specialist experts who have a deep understanding of their unique needs. This coming together, enables HCR to provide such a service.”

HCR Law has more than 800 staff and partners based at offices in Birmingham, Cambridge, Cardiff, Central England, Cheltenham, Hereford, London, Thames Valley, Worcester and the Wye Valley.

Away from the capital, Carlisle-based Cartmell Shepherd has expanded into Hexham in Northumberland by acquiring Nicholson Portnell, which has three partners and 12 other fee-earners.

“This strategic move marks a significant milestone in our commitment to bring our specialist expertise, dedication and client-focused approach to the residents and businesses of Hexham and the Tyne Valley,” the firm said. It now has seven offices in total.

Meanwhile, the new managing partner of Ward Hadaway – the Newcastle-headquartered firm with offices in Leeds and Manchester – has said he wants the firm to double in size over the next decade.

Steven Petrie said: “The management board and I have very clear ambitions for the firm, that I am keen to articulate and advocate internally and externally.

“I am determined to achieve substantial growth in each office, growing our turnover by over 50% within the next five years, and 100% in 10, in order to leverage our scale to continue to support organisations of all shapes and sizes.”

Mr Petrie has spoken about looking at acquiring smaller firms of £5m-£15m turnover and potentially expanding Ward Hadaway’s geographical reach. The firm has nearly 500 people, including 97 partners, and a turnover of more than £50m.

He said: “We are openly exploring the opportunity for mergers as part of our growth strategy.  We are particularly finding that there is an appetite for mergers among smaller firms.

“With professional indemnity insurance going up every year and the increased focus on compliance and regulation, managing these smaller firms is getting very intense. They just want to get on with the day job and be good lawyers, and they could do that if they merged into Ward Hadaway.”

Leading defendant law firm HF has said it too is eyeing up acquisitions after announcing a £12m funding package provided by NatWest Group as part of its continued growth strategy.

With a turnover of £51 million in the last financial year, HF has around 800 staff across 11 offices and counts 19 of the top 20 insurance companies as clients.

And Derby-based Flint Bishop is looking for acquisitions as part of its growth plans. Speaking after hiring Karen Walker from Shakespeare Martineau to be its new chief operating officer, chief executive Qamer Ghafoor said: “She will play an important role as the firm undergoes a period of further planned expansion of organic growth and upcoming acquisitions of strategically sought law firms…

“Flint Bishop is positioned for further expansion, with a clear trajectory towards becoming a recognised national player, expanding market recognition, and solidifying its presence on a broader scale.”

Flint Bishop recorded a turnover of £21m in the last financial year and its headcount surpassed 250 for the first time.

Kent and London firm Thackary Williams is also considering M&A in the wake of announcing a 9% rise in revenues to £12.2m, and net profit margin up two percentage points to 21%.

Simon Slater, non-executive chair of the Bromley-headquartered firm, said: “Whilst we are committed to our strategy of further organic growth, we will also consider alternative options, such as merger and acquisition, in order to increase our sector exposure, expand geographically and achieve our growth ambitions.”

There have also been two notable acquisitions among suppliers to the legal market.

Access Legal has acquired inCase, which was launched in 2013 by solicitor Sucheet Amin, who is also senior partner of Manchester personal injury law firm Aequitas Legal and a former president of Manchester Law Society.

The app enables users to send secure documents and pictures, obtain electronic signatures and keep clients informed in the progress of cases. It also has an instant message facility and facial recognition security.

It has been used by over 3,300 legal professionals and supported over 230,000 clients in the last 12 months.

Mr Amin said: “Given its market reputation, Access Legal is the perfect partner for us and the acquisition will also help accelerate our capabilities to maintain a market-leading solution alongside offering growth opportunities for our people in a collaborative client centric culture.”

The deal also marks the exit of private equity house Inflexion, which spent £1.5m on a minority stake in Lavatech Ltd, Mr Amin’s company, in 2020.

Specialist family law and probate funder Level has boosted its probate capabilities by acquiring Tower Street Finance, while also raising a further £10m in backing, comprising £5m of equity capital investment from Kendal Capital and £5m of debt investment from Correlation Risk Partners, to support its growth strategy.

Grant Kurland, CEO and co-founder of Kendal Capital, said: “Level presents an exciting investment opportunity in a growing market. The combination of Level and Tower Street Finance is well placed to capitalise on their respective market leading positions in the family and probate sectors.”

Finally, Shruti Trivedi and Iain Hibbert have left Roythornes, where they were partners, to set up Devello Group, a specialist planning and property development practice with offices in Nottingham and Lincoln.

Ms Trivedi said: “It just felt the right time to strike out on our own and create a new kind of law firm – we want to do things differently in a holistic way and saw a gap for a niche service in the market.” This meant moving away from hourly billing where possible.

As well as legal advice, Devello aims to offer “a high-level strategic advisory service to developers, landowners, promoters, investors and others in the planning and development sectors”.

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