Legal Business

‘Filling in the gaps’: Bircham Dyson Bell and Pitmans eye ABS transition with merger

‘Filling in the gaps’: Bircham Dyson Bell and Pitmans eye ABS transition with merger

The partners of Bircham Dyson Bell and Pitmans have voted for a £50m merger and move to an alternative business structure (ABS).

The pair announced today (28 September) that the respective partnerships had overwhelmingly approved the tie-up, which is hoped will propel them into the top 50 of the UK’s law firms. It first announced the plans earlier this month bolstering flagging revenue figures at both firms and align their complementary practice areas.

The merged firm – BDB Pitmans – will take effect on 1 December and will operate from London, Reading, Cambridge and Southampton.

The combination of 80 partners and more than 400 staff will be led by legacy BDB managing partner Andrew Smith and chief operating officer Mark Jones, alongside an executive board including legacy Pitmans managing partner John Hutchinson, deputy managing partner Suzanne Brooker and senior partner David Archer. The board will also include three legacy BDB Partners and will be led by BDB’s Helen Ratcliffe, who will be senior partner of the merged firm.

Smith told Legal Business the firms initially met for introductory talks last November: ‘We took things up again in May and were able to move along quickly because of the support and collaboration on both sides.’

Hutchinson added: ‘The merger will allow for an enhanced offering for our clients in the geographies that work, and in the UK’s tech hubs.’

Historically, core practice areas for Pitmans have been pensions disputes, while BDB counts private wealth, infrastructure and corporate as its forte.

Smith noted: ‘One of the striking things is the number of very complementary practice areas, but there is also the opportunity to build out and grow. Now we can fill in the gaps. Restructuring and insolvency, corporate in all its forms, infrastructure planning and regeneration, as well as high net worth and ultra-high net worth individuals, will be the focus.’

BDB recorded a 3% revenue drop in 2017 to £33.7m, while profit per equity partner (PEP) fell by 10% to £222,000. Its revenue has increased by only 8% since 2013. For its part, Pitmans saw its revenue fall 3% in the year to 30 April 2017, down to £18.7m from £19.2m.

The Thames Valley-based Pitmans is no stranger to mergers, having completed a tie-up with City-based Calverts Solicitors in 2015. For its part, BDB has been gearing up for expansion, having last year absorbed the nine-lawyer office of King & Wood Mallesons (KWM) in Cambridge with a view to extending beyond its real estate specialism.

nathalie.tidman@legalease.co.uk

Legal Business

Bircham Dyson and Pitmans seek reversal of revenue fortunes with £52m merger bid

Bircham Dyson and Pitmans seek reversal of revenue fortunes with £52m merger bid

The partnerships at City law firm Bircham Dyson Bell (BDB) and Reading headquartered Pitmans will this month vote on a proposed merger to create a £50m-plus firm.

A merger would be good for a partner headcount of 80, while overall staff numbers would be 404. A combined revenue of about £52m would put the merged firm close to the UK’s top 60 by revenue. A vote is set for 27 September.

BDB recorded a 3% revenue drop last year to £33.7m, while profit per equity partner (PEP) fell by 10% to £222,000. Its revenue has only increased 8% since 2013. Pitmans, similarly, saw its revenue fall 3% in the year to 30 April 2017, down to £18.7m from £19.2m.

A merger would look to reverse the flagging revenue figures at both firms. The Thames Valley-based Pitmans is no stranger to mergers, as well, with the firm completing a tie-up with City-based Calverts Solicitors in 2015.

BDB, for its part, has been eager to expand, last year absorbing the nine-lawyer office of King & Wood Mallesons (KWM) in Cambridge, with the office looking to extend its reach beyond its real estate focus.

Core practice areas for Pitmans are pensions and disputes, while BDB counts private wealth, infrastructure and corporate as its key offerings.

The firms said: ‘We have decided to make this announcement now so that we can be transparent with our staff and clients throughout the process. As the discussions progress we will make further announcements.’

thomas.alan@legalbusiness.co.uk

Legal Business

Profits jump 18% at Bircham Dyson Bell as turnover benefits from boutique buy

Profits jump 18% at Bircham Dyson Bell as turnover benefits from boutique buy

Westminster firm Bircham Dyson Bell has posted respectable financial results for the 2014/15 year as it grew income 10% to £34.5m from £31.3m and generated profits of £11.1m – up 18%.

The firm’s performance was driven by the firm’s charities, government and infrastructure group, as well as real estate, litigation and corporate and commercial departments. The firm said it further benefitted from the acquisition of boutique Ambrose Appelbe in 2014, a strategic bid to enhance the performance of its family and private wealth teams and adding around £2m to its top line.

PEP also recovered substantially rising 27% to £252,000, after the firm suffered a fall in numbers last year after converting to an all-equity partnership in summer 2013.

Jesper Christensen, the firm’s managing partner, said: ‘These are excellent financial results, with revenue increasing as a result of ensuring that client satisfaction remains at the heart of everything we do. The results are also further proof that the single equity structure adopted in June 2013, under which all partners have an equity stake in the business, has been a great success.’

Chief operating officer Mark Jones added: ‘We have every confidence in the ability of the firm and our people to build on our strong performance over the last 12 months and ensure our continued sustainable and profitable growth.’

Other national players to announce healthy results includes top-50 UK law firm Burges Salmon which in late July posted another year of solid growth as results released for the 2014/15 year show revenue up by 6% to £80.8m from £76.5m while profit per equity partner jumped 11% to £485,000.

sarah.downey@legalease.co.uk

Legal Business

Bircham Dyson Bell ex-partner struck off for £2m client overcharging and false expenses

A former Bircham Dyson Bell partner has been struck off the Roll after knowingly overcharging clients, misusing client funds and making false expense claims to the tune of nearly £2m.

William Pencharz was asked to leave Bircham Dyson in February 2010 after a routine review of a file relating to the estate of ‘Ms JB’ raised concerns and led to the review of a further 181 files by the firm.

Of those files, 83 raised suspicions of client overcharging – with one client overcharged by as much as 1100% on a worst case scenario costs draftsman’s estimate. Thirty one files revealed misuse of client funds for minor expenditure and 85 files showed inadequate accounting to clients. Pencharz was also found to have forged three clients signature.

Bircham Dyson immediately reported both its initial and later suspicions to the Solicitors Regulation Authority and in July 2011 sent a letter of claim to Pencharz for the cost of auditing the files (£501,675.10); a demand for £1,944,500 for sums owed to clients; and £424,755 for the profit share paid in reliance that his billings were lawful.

As first revealed by RollonFriday, Pencharz was also found to have invested around £1m of client funds into the highly speculative Poop Company – of which he was a director and investor – which bankrolled the search for sunken Spanish Armada treasure.

Striking off Pencharz, the solicitors disciplinary tribunal in July found ‘dishonesty proved with regard to three distinct matters being overcharging by the respondent, false expense claims made by the respondent and forgery by the respondent or which he had permitted of clients’ signatures.’

The forgery, together with the fact that the misconduct occurred over a lengthy period and in two cases involved vulnerable clients with little family, were aggravating factors.

The tribunal said it had ‘rarely come across such serious misconduct carried out over several years on a number of different matters by a solicitor.’

Neither the firm nor any member of the firm were found to be at fault.

At the time of the tribunal, Bircham Dyson had yet to issue civil proceedings against Pencharz and the total amount refunded by the firm to clients was £2,005,000 plus £175,000 interest with provision for a further £795,000 which might have to be refunded. The firm has also refunded clients £232,420 where there had been inadequate or inappropriate accounting to clients, including £100,000 for fees relating to the Poop Company.

A statement from Bircham Dyson said: ‘A number of serious irregularities by William Pencharz, including breaches of the SRA Accounts Rules, were highlighted during a routine review of files under our internal risk management procedures in late 2009. Our findings were reported to the SRA in January 2010 and Pencharz left the firm at our request with effect from 28 February 2010.

‘We note and fully support the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal decision against Pencharz. The SRA has confirmed that no action is to be taken against the firm or any other member of the firm.

‘No client money has been lost and we continue to take all steps necessary to ensure that no clients have suffered as a result of the actions of Pencharz.’

Pencharz, who chose not to attend and was unrepresented in court, was ordered to pay £34,000 in costs.

sarah.downey@legalease.co.uk