Top criminal law firm leads merger rush

Haddleton: Fixed-price services

Merger activity among law firms continues apace, with deals done across the country – including a leading criminal legal aid practice that has completed two in rapid succession and is on the hunt for more.

Tuckers – which describes itself as the largest criminal legal aid provider in the country – has brought on board north London firm Kent Solicitors, which has particularly strong links within the Turkish community, and Murray Brankin in Coventry.

Both firms have moved onto a case management system that Adam Makepeace, Tuckers’ practice director, said it has spent three years building, with the aim of “freeing ourselves from the constraints of software vendors that do not cater for criminal defence firms – certainly not without significant costs”.

As a result, he said, Tuckers has been “quiet in terms of expansion” during that time, but the firm expects to merge this year with more firms “that share our vision for how criminal defence will be practised in the future”.

Tuckers is looking to bring on board firms with strong local brands that can plug into its Case Ratio system and “lean on the management support available within the Tuckers back office set-up”.

Mr Makepeace said: “Those firms can then continue to operate their businesses within their local market, subject to following the case management workflow, which ensures ‘compliance by default’ in terms of matching up to the audit requirements that are imposed upon firms.”

Ozlem Erbil Cetin, owner of Kent Solicitors and now a partner at Tuckers, added: “Like most owners of small firms, I had become very tired of carrying burden of the regulatory and compliance regimes of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), Legal Aid Agency (LAA) and Lexcel/SQM.

“I hope that our merger with Tuckers will actually enable me to strengthen the brand of Kent Solicitors within our key areas, as I can finally focus all my attention on our client work as opposed to managing other aspects of the business.”

It was a similar story at Murray Brankin. Karl Brankin, also now a partner at Tuckers, said that with his partner leaving to take up a judicial post, “the prospect of carrying the full burden of regulatory and compliance responsibilities with the LAA and SRA whilst acting as both COFA and COLP was not particularly attractive”.

He added: “This merger will enable me to concentrate on criminal defence work as my priority. The benefits of being able to jump straight into a case management environment that we would never have been able to afford as a small firm are immediately obvious.”

Also looking at offering a back-office service – although for clients, rather than other law firms – is Harrogate practice Haddletons, which provides both legal and business consultancy advice.

It has acquired Leeds-based IP Assist from FTSE-250 company IP Group plc, in a move that it said would expand its support for spin-out and growth companies.

IP Assist provides technology and life sciences portfolio companies with company secretarial and administrative services. It continue to provide company secretarial services to IP Group subsidiary companies.

James Haddleton, CEO of Haddletons, said the acquisition would facilitate his firm’s plans for a fixed-price support service for growth businesses that includes a company secretary function, finance, HR, and other back-office functions. Legal advice would also be available as part of that service.

“We are delighted to introduce our legal team to growth companies. It is almost entirely made up of senior former in-house lawyers, many with investment, tech and life science backgrounds, who have a deep understanding of the commercial needs of growth businesses with high-value IP, both from a legal and compliance perspective.

“The launch of a back-office support service for a set monthly fee is therefore a natural step for us, particularly as we already operate fixed fees for our legal services.”

Also in Leeds, a new property litigation firm, Hägen Wolf, has opened its doors. Led by Matt Pugh and launching with a team of nine, the firm has an office in London as well.

Mr Pugh, a one-time head of property litigation at both Langleys and Lee & Priestley, said the firm has already secured work with major transport operators, business owners and property investors across the UK.

Still in Yorkshire, Waddington Turner Wall (WTW), based in Keighley, and Foster Law near Skipton, have merged, although both businesses will continue under their existing names.

WTW’s areas of work include litigation, equine law and family, while Foster Law principally offers company, agricultural and private client services.

WTW director Michael Bower said the merger “enables us to offer a more comprehensive range of legal services across the Aire Valley and the Yorkshire/Lancashire border”.

Elsewhere, FBC Manby Bowdler has increased its Telford-based property team after acquiring a firm of licensed conveyancers, Gallaghers, in nearby Wellington. The eight employees moving over work in both residential and commercial property.

Listed law firms have been busy. We reported earlier this week about Knights’ third acquisition in three months, while the Ince Group – a name synonymous with shipping work – is bringing in a 10-strong team from specialist shipping law firm Bentleys Stokes & Lowless.

The Bentleys partnership is ceasing as a result – the firm had eight partners and six assistants/managers. Senior partner Paul Griffiths said: “Ince is a stalwart of the shipping world and we look forward to providing counsel to its impressive global client list whilst continuing to service our clients.”

Finally, DAC Beachcroft has boosted its Madrid office by taking over three-partner, 20-lawyer Spanish law firm Asjusa, which specialises in healthcare law.

David Pollitt, DAC Beachcroft’s managing partner, said: “This move sends a clear message to the market about our continued focus on being the law firm of choice for the global insurance industry.”

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