The Solicitors Regulation Authority has given Australia’s Slater & Gordon (S&G), the world’s first listed law firm, the green light to take over Russell Jones & Walker (RJW) after granting it the fifth alternative business structure licence.
The move will kick-start a strategy that S&G managing director Andrew Grech told this week’s Legal Futures conference will include a series of further acquisitions.
The first foreign-owned ABS, S&G will incorporate a wholly owned subsidiary company in the UK, Slater & Gordon UK Ltd, to manage its operations here. RJW chief executive Neil Kinsella will become chief executive of S&G’s UK business. All senior RJW management will continue in their current roles, and all of RJW’s principals will continue to work in the new business, becoming shareholders in S&G.
The £53.8m purchase price is made up of £36.4 million in cash – of which £8.8 million will be deferred for up to two years subject to performance milestones and £10.3 million will be used on completion to repay bank debt of the RJW partnership – and the issue of £17.4 million in Slater & Gordon shares, which is subject to restraints on sale for a minimum period of four years post completion.
SRA chief executive Antony Townsend said: “The SRA is delighted to announce the licensing of Slater & Gordon as the latest ABS. This new licensed body combines a wealth of legal services in Russell Jones & Walker with the experience of the Australian law firm Slater & Gordon. It is a further example of the kind of innovation which ABSs are bringing to the legal services market.”
Mr Kinsella added: “This is an exciting new chapter in our history and is an important step towards us achieving our ambition of becoming the largest and most trusted brand for personal legal services in the UK.”
Mr Grech described this as “the optimum time to enter the UK market because of the changes in ownership laws and impending changes to the personal injury sector”.
He told Monday’s conference, which was sponsored by NatWest, that the firm’s goal is to be the “law firm of choice for everyday people, servicing their legal needs across the spectrum of those legal needs professionally, affordably and conveniently”.
Mr Grech said: “We plan to have a big presence in the UK – we didn’t enter this market to have a small part of it… We’ve got to build a brand and to do that will require investment.”
He said the strategy is “to build the business organically over time, including through the carefully assessed acquisition of firms that will allow us to build scale, as we’ve done in Australia”. Around 40-50% of S&G’s growth in Australia since it listed in 2007 has come from acquisitions, he explained. He indicated that this would focus on strengthening core areas geographically.