Private equity takes next step in the law with acquisition of leading family practice

Stowe: exit strategy

Stowe Family Law (SFL) – which claims to be the largest specialist family law firm in the country – has become the latest legal practice to accept private equity investment after signing a deal with mid-market backer Livingbridge.

The plan is to build a “larger national footprint”, opening up to 30 additional offices over the next five years – it currently has 10 – as well as “building on SFL’s strong IT platform and management team”.

The exact nature of the deal has not been disclosed, but it has been described as a sale worth more than £10m. SFL has around 100 staff, including 14 partners.

It was reported in The Times today – in the only interview Ms Stowe is giving – that she will take “a pay-off” from the Livingbridge investment and will “keep in touch with the board” but will be stepping away from the firm.

Livingbridge said it believed the firm has “enormous potential to serve more of the UK”.

Daniel Smith of the company said: “Stowe Family Law is a great success story. Under Marilyn’s ownership it has become the largest specialist family law firm in the UK, consistently delivering outstanding service and outcomes for its clients…

“The business is in fantastic shape with a talented team of leaders, solicitors and staff who are at the top of their game.”

Livingbridge has invested in over 100 companies, particularly in consumer markets and professional services, including recruitment firms such as Frank Recruitment Group, Staffline and The Up Group as well as Kingsbridge, the specialist insurance broker, and Broadstone, the pensions and employee benefits provider.

A statement said the deal would allow Ms Stowe “to explore new opportunities, using her expertise as a family lawyer and campaigner for justice as well as her reputation as a successful businesswoman”.

Ms Stowe, who founded the firm in 1982, said: “I will always be involved with the firm, and I am particularly thrilled it will continue to bear my name. It has been my most important ambition for this firm and its clients to thrive following my departure and I have achieved this with Livingbridge.”

In the Times interview, she said: “As I approached a certain age, when I starting thinking about an exit strategy, I started to think about ensuring the future of the firm for posterity, particularly given the state of the legal market, the recession and loss of legal aid.

“I started to dream, and I had the idea of opening offices all over the country that would attract people, not be offputting but welcoming, and uniform, with the same decor — all backed with a futuristic infrastructure…

“What I wanted to do was to create a brand; it’s not about me, but the firm. We have built up a business and turned the law firm into a brand, a retail operation, that works for the consumer and works for us.”

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