North-West England at the centre of autumn merger activity

Hugh James deal (l-r): Alun Jones, Hugh Potter, Helen Dolan

Hugh James, the largest law firm in Wales, is continuing its expansion across England by acquiring Manchester-based catastrophic personal injury and clinical negligence practice Potter Rees Dolan.

It is the most eye-catching of the relatively small number of deals that have been announced in recent weeks, given that the 1 October professional indemnity insurance renewal deadline for many firms often sparks mergers and acquisitions.

Most of the activity involves firms in the North-West of England.

Potter Rees Dolan, which also has Court of Protection and welfare benefits departments, has nine partners and more than 65 staff. In the past year, it has secured settlements worth more than £125m for clients.

Its most recent accounts, for the year to 31 March 2021, showed turnover up 20% to £7.6m and a 60% jump in profit before tax to £3.2m.

Hugh James – which also has offices in London, Southampton and Plymouth – said its strategy identified expansion into the North-West five years ago.

Potter Rees Dolan will continue under its own brand for now before being subsumed into Hugh James’s and it will have new departments from across the Welsh giant’s private client and business service areas.

Hugh James managing partner Alun Jones said: “Our work aligns closely with theirs and together we’ll be able to provide an even better service to clients across England and Wales.”

In a joint statement, owners Hugh Potter and Helen Dolan added: “We’ve been impressed by the approach [Hugh James] has taken in carefully building its London presence and we are confident that the same will be applied to develop the business in Manchester.”

Hugh James now has over 550 staff, including 67 partners

Also in the North-West, property law firms ET Law and Abacus Solicitors merged to create a 50-strong team with offices in Manchester, South Warrington and, very soon, Altrincham in Cheshire. In the New Year, the combined business will be renamed Able Legal.

The firms said they have worked “collaboratively but separately” since 2010 and “the merger formalises their long-standing partnership”.

Managing partner Geoff Underhill said: “Our new name provides an apt summary of our abilities as recognised experts in our specialisms. It’s dynamic, memorable and marks the passing of the old and the emergence of a new, stronger and better resourced business.”

Key clients of the enlarged practice include Elan Homes, Hornsearle Property Group, Lane End Developments and Oddfellows Hotels.

Still in the region, Altrincham-headquartered business law firm MLP Law has acquired Tebbitts & Co, based in Crewe and Warrington. Max Tebbitts has joined as a partner in the commercial IP and litigation team.

MLP, which also has offices in Lymm near Warrington and Leeds, has announced a new Manchester city centre office as well.

Managing partner Stephen Attree said: “MLP Law is on a clear growth trajectory after a successful few years.

“We have developed long-standing relationships with some of the most successful company owners and directors in the region, often aiding them in every area of their business and personal lives, with many joining our retainer-based fee model which allows them to access ongoing support across all our practice areas at a fixed monthly fee.”

Meanwhile, Manchester’s BBS Law has almost doubled in size by acquiring North-West London firm OGR Stock Denton, which has a broad private client and business practice. BBS opened an office in the City of London in May 2020.

The combined firm has around 60 lawyers, of which 24 – including seven partners – came from OGR.

BBS managing partner Dov Black said: “In a marketplace where there has been a significant reduction in boutique firms providing high-quality commercial services, we are really excited by this expansion with the addition of a similar-sized firm operating in the same marketplace…

“With its strength in private client and family law, we will have the opportunity to broaden the legal services we currently offer our high-net-worth clients.”

On the south coast, Rawlins Davy and Jacobs & Reeves joined forces under the name Rawlins Davy Reeves, with an office in Bournemouth, two in Poole and one more in Wimborne. It has 22 fee-earners.

Helen Henson, owner of Jacob & Reeves, said: “We are a traditional high street firm specialising in family, private client and property. This merger opens up a huge opportunity for developing services. Bigger is better now and RDR will be the only law firm on the high street in Poole.”

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