PE-backed family law firm makes second acquisition in a year

Hickey: Expediting expansion plans

A second acquisition in a year by private equity-owned Stowe Family Law leads the way in our round-up of the latest activity among alternative business structures (ABSs).

Stowe has bought Watson Thomas, a family law firm with offices in Fleet and Winchester in Hampshire, and Guildford in Surrey.

It also has meeting rooms in five other locations, including London. The firm has three partners and 13 fee-earners.

Stowe has been expanding rapidly through recruitment and new offices, and this represents only the second acquisition, after Chapman Pieri in North London last April.

Chairman Ken Fowlie said: “Watson Thomas Solicitors is a strong addition to the Stowe Family Law breadth of offering, accelerating our growth strategy and expanding our presence in the Surrey, Hampshire and London markets…

“This acquisition is another positive step in Stowe’s journey, as we continue to pursue our mission to be the UK’s leading family law practice. We are always looking for new ways to grow the firm and support our clients.”

Stowe now has 64 offices across England and Wales, with more than 120 lawyers. Mr Fowlie told Legal Futures last year that while its growth to that point had been achieved organically, acquisition added “another limb to our strategy”.

Conveyancing firm PLS Solicitors, which has more than 200 staff in Manchester, London and Liverpool, has become an ABS so as to “expedite expansion plans, empower staff and deliver unrivalled customer service levels”.

Managing director Dan Hickey said the freedom to attract non-legal investors and appoint a leadership team with diverse skill sets would enable the firm “to react quickly to new technological and other opportunities and add further associated consultancy services and related products to our existing portfolio”.

Two non-solicitors were promoted to director as a result. He added: “We have recognised for years that the legal function is only part of getting the overall client experience right. It’s time to be able to promote some of those staff to greater positions within the company both now in some cases, and in the future for others.”

Spencer West, an ABS and one of the largest fee-share consultancy firms, has expanded into Germany, the Channel Islands and Northern Ireland.

In Germany, it has recruited two partners in Berlin and one in Frankfurt focused, while two partners have joined in Guernsey.

The City of London-headquartered firm has launched a “collaborative association” with commercial law firm McMahon McKay, which will operate from its existing Belfast offices as ‘McMahon McKay in association with Spencer West’. Dual-qualified founder John McMahon has joined Spencer West as a partner.

In all, Spencer West has already brought in 16 partners this year.

Co-founder Antoine West said: “These are markets primed for alternative law firm expansion and we intend to be at the vanguard of the change… We’re already the fastest-growing ALF in the UK – and we anticipate replicating that very quickly in Germany.”

Frankfurt-based partner Artur Bunk said: “Ours is an offering perfectly suited to the mid-market – owner managed, family businesses who aren’t getting the service they want from bigger firms. These businesses don’t have the time to teach more junior advisers about their business, markets and cross-border trade.”

Finally, Nigerian law firm Olaniwun Ajayi has converted its London operation, its first outside Nigeria, to an ABS. With three partners, its focus is corporate finance, energy and infrastructure, and project finance work.

Managing partner Howard Barrie said: “There have been significant changes in the requirements of international and domestic investors in and from Africa due to the multi-jurisdictional and cross-border nature of financing business, trade and infrastructure, frequently governed by English law.

“In the past, these investors and financial institutions have looked to international law firms based in London or Paris which have then in turn needed to work with a local law firm to provide relevant domestic legal advice.

“This model may not fully take into account the regulatory and cultural sensitivities that an Africa-centric approach provides. Olaniwun Ajayi is now able to fill this gap.”

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