Legal Business

Redundancy watch: DWF, Hill Dickinson and Taylor Wessing all confirm job cuts

Redundancy watch: DWF, Hill Dickinson and Taylor Wessing all confirm job cuts

The stream of UK law firm job cuts continues apace as DWF, Hill Dickinson and Taylor Wessing have today (30 July) confirmed that recent redundancy consultations have resulted multiple job losses.

DWF, having completed five mergers in less than 18 months and with a remarkable 84% increase in turnover to £188m, has become one of the most closely watched national practices in the legal market of late. The expansion has led to some significant streamlining of the business however and the firm has confirmed to Legal Business it has cut 38 staff from its ranks following redundancy consultations that began in May.

‘Following a recent restructure, DWF has had a net reduction of 38 roles across the practice groups,’ said a firm statement. The firm would neither specify which offices the job cuts have affected nor which roles.

The redundancies come after DWF announced a review of 80 roles in May, while two months previous to that the firm placed 99 jobs under threat after its run of five acquisitions – and having taken on the heavy load of 419 staff from the collapsing Cobbetts.

DWF also confirmed in May that the redundancy consultation would affect fee-earners and support staff at the firm’s Manchester, Coventry, Teesside and London bases, while restructuring at the Birmingham office was completed with two exiting the office and three others finding alternative roles.

Meanwhile Hill Dickinson, following an announcement in April that it would be reviewing jobs ‘in response to the prevailing market conditions’ has announced a total of 83 job losses, including 14 partners and 69 employees – 44 of which are leaving on a voluntary basis.

The news was confirmed shortly after the firm had announced it has sold its Chester office to Midlands firm Knights Solicitors for an undisclosed sum. The acquisition is a first for the James Caan-led Knights following the private equity investment it received from Hamilton Bradshaw in June 2012.

The cuts are a surprise given Hill Dickinson has averaged 10% revenue growth over the last five years and posted a 22% rise in profit per lawyer in 2011/12.

Senior partner David Wareing said: ‘This has been a sensitive time for all involved and we have done our utmost to conduct a professional and thorough consultation process with our staff throughout.

‘We have a strong and sustainable business and indeed many of our teams recorded revenue growth in the last financial year. Inevitably however, we have been affected like all our competitors by the difficult trading conditions which presently exist in our regional centres and accordingly it has been necessary for us to proactively manage the business to ensure the stability of the firm as a whole and to enable us to continue to further invest in the business in the future.’

In the City, Taylor Wessing, having enjoyed modest financial growth this year with UK revenue growing 4% to £104.5m, has confirmed 22 secretaries will be made redundant. This was originally anticipated to be 26 out of a consultation of 96 secretarial roles which began in June.

The firm said the consultation was part of a restructure of its secretarial resource rather than simply a headcount reduction exercise. It also expects a new secretarial support model to improve workplace efficiency with new secretarial services desk that will provide document services support to secretaries and fee-earners alike.

Finally, just four partners and eight staff at DLA Piper have decided to accept permanent relocation from its now closed Glasgow office to Edinburgh. This follows a three-month trial period in which the 10 partners and 30 other staff could decide whether to make the move. DLA declined to comment.

The latest cuts by Taylor Wessing, DLA Piper, DWF, and Hill Dickinson are a string of many across major UK firms under pressure to maintain profit levels, with firms such as Berwin Leighton Paisner and Eversheds both confirming job cuts this year.

Legal Business

Taylor Wessing to review secretarial jobs

96 London support staff put on notice of potential redundancy.

Taylor Wessing is to make 26 of its City secretaries redundant with all 96 secretaries in London put on notice pending a consultation.

The firm but expects the process to last for at least 30 days.

A statement released by UK managing partner Tim Eyles said: ‘The realisation of our strategy is dependent on us ensuring that all areas of our business are structured with a view to providing the best and most efficient service possible to our clients.

The redesign of our secretarial support is driven by that focus.’

Taylor Wessing in May announced that its revenues increased by 7% annually in 2012/13 to £228m, with UK revenues up 4% to £104.5m. The firm has yet to confirm partner profits for the financial year.

Taylor Wessing joins a growing list of major UK practices to announce job cuts in recent months including DWF, Berwin Leighton Paisner and Osborne Clarke, with 2013 shaping up to be the toughest legal labour market since 2009, when more than 2,000 jobs were cut in the UK.

Last month Ashurst launched a wide-ranging consultation with 350 support staff in London after announcing plans to launch a ‘north-shoring’ arm in Glasgow to provide back office and legal support.

Legal Business

Reports season 2013 – DWF’s acquisition trail sees bumper revenue and profit increase

Reports season 2013 – DWF’s acquisition trail sees bumper revenue and profit increase

It has swiftly moved from obscure regional player into one of the most closely watched practices on the national scene and financial results announced today (6 June) confirm the extent of its dramatic ascent. DWF, which has completed five mergers in under 18 months, has unsurprisingly reported significant revenue and profit increases for the 2012/13 financial year.Turnover at the law firm is up 84% to £188m, while the firm’s net profit is up 41%, with profit per equity partner standing at £429,000, against £408,000 the previous year.

Andrew Leaitherland, who has led the firm’s remarkable growth since becoming managing partner in 2006, when turnover was just £34m, said: ‘We have been very clear about our ambition to expand our national presence, and that we see strategic mergers with like-minded firms as a key part of this. The decisions we’ve undertaken in the past year have all been led by market demand and have served to reinforce the expertise we have as a team.’

DWF further underlined its national ambitions this week after announcing that it had appointed former Eversheds chairman David Gray as a non-executive board director.

The past year-and-a-half has seen the firm expand dramatically after merger discussions with the ailing Cobbetts collapsed in January 2012. The firm announced a deal with Newcastle practice Crutes shortly afterwards before insurance boutique Buller Jeffries was acquired to bolster its Birmingham offering in May. July saw the firm complete its most significant tie-up of 2012: adding around 40 partners in Glasgow and Edinburgh through the acquisition of Scottish blueblood Biggart Baillie. This Anglo-Scottish deal was eclipsed only in scale and prestige by McGrigors’ acquisition by Pinsent Masons last May.

By the turn of 2013 the firm was back on the acquisition trail again, this time picking up City professional indemnity boutique Fishburns before rounding off (for now) by picking up 419 staff from the insolvent Cobbetts in a pre-pack deal. The net result is a firm with revenues close to those in the top 20 of the Legal Business 100.

The firm’s rise has divided peers, with some hailing its ambition and drive while others claim its pace of growth will be unsustainable – not that such claims bother the straight-talking Leaitherland. Nevertheless, DWF faces a challenge to integrate its run of acquisitions, with the firm in May announcing up to 80 jobs were at risk in a review of its business. How this ultimately pans out will be watched closely by rivals.

Legal Business

Redundancy watch – expansive DWF puts 80 jobs at risk as gloomy job news continues

Redundancy watch – expansive DWF puts 80 jobs at risk as gloomy job news continues

The steady stream of job cuts seen through May continued this week with the rapidly-assembled national player DWF confirming it has put around 80 roles at risk in a review of the business. The move comes only two months after a previous consultation put 99 jobs under threat following DWF’s recent run of five acquisitions culminated earlier this year in taking on 419 staff from the collapsing Cobbetts.

DWF today (31 May) confirmed that the latest redundancy consultation would affect fee-earners and support staff at the firm’s Manchester, Coventry, Teesside and London bases, while a restructuring at its Birmingham office has been completed seeing two leaving the office with three others finding alternative roles.

In London, 35 secretarial support and administrative roles are under review, although the firm anticipates that only two roles will be lost. The office’s employment team is also awaiting a potential restructure with two or three jobs at risk.

DWF is meanwhile looking to scale back its Manchester finance team with 23 roles at risk, while 11 staff in Coventry and Teesside are currently under consultation with some considering relocation to Birmingham and Newcastle offices. A statement from the firm said that ‘maintaining fully-serviced offices in Coventry and Teesside no longer aligns with the strategy of the firm or the changing needs of clients in these regions’.

This news – which was first reported on RollOnFriday – comes after the firm launched a review of its business in its two Scottish offices, Edinburgh and Glasgow, on 13 May, where 11 roles are at risk. These comprised seven fee-earning roles, three secretarial jobs and one IT position.

Under managing partner Andrew Leitherland (pictured), DWF has sustained a dramatic growth strategy, bulking up through lateral hires and mergers to expand its revenues nearly tenfold over the last decade to a current tally of £200m. However, critics have claimed that the firm will struggle to manage this rate of growth.

DWF’s announcement comes after a run of job cuts across major UK firms with Berwin Leighton Paisner, Eversheds and Osborne Clarke among those announcing recent job losses. On current form it looks likely that more than 1,000 staff will lose their jobs at major UK law firms this year – by far the deepest cuts seen since 2009.

Legal Business

Details emerge of terms of Cobbetts’ fire sale

DWF acquired Cobbetts’ work in progress (WIP) from KPMG in February for £3.8m as details emerge of the Manchester firm’s fire sale.

KPMG was instructed on 17 January to start administration proceedings, although Cobbetts’ lender, Lloyds TSB, had engaged KPMG in September to formulate contingency plans as the firm was beginning to falter. Continued trading was dependent on the support of Lloyds TSB, which was only prepared to provide monies to pay January wages and other outgoings if Cobbetts granted security.

Legal Business

DWF makes 38 redundancies post Cobbetts pre-pack

DWF makes 38 redundancies post Cobbetts pre-pack

Following its acquisition of Cobbetts, DWF has laid off 38 staff from its central services support team following a consultation which ended last Friday (22 March).

DWF initially placed 140 staff under redundancy risk but 83 have now been placed into roles and 21 are still in the selection process.

The firm said the move was ‘inevitable with an acquisition of this size and nature’ and that ‘there was an element of overlap of roles’.

DWF acquired Cobbetts in February after the latter filed for administration.

There are currently 40 vacancies and the firm is encouraging those at risk to apply where they see fit. DWF also said that it was providing career workshops for those affected by the redundancies.

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In a statement, the firm said: ‘Further to the announcement last month that it had acquired Cobbetts LLP, DWF has now confirmed that as a result of the move, 38 roles within the now combined Central Services teams are to be made redundant.’

The Cobbetts deal marks a busy acquisitive period for DWF. In January, the firm merged with professional indemnity outfit, Fishburns. In June last year the firm united with Scotland’s Biggart Baillie and tied the knot with Birmingham based Buller Jeffries four months later. In 2011 it took over Newcastle outfit Crutes. The firm seems intent to grow into a serious national player.

DWF recorded revenues of £102m for 2011/12 but with this recent string of mergers the firm could be set to break into the top 20.

Legal Business

DWF looks to acquire a stricken Cobbetts in pre-pack deal

DWF is set to acquire Cobbetts in a pre-pack deal, after the struggling Manchester-based firm called in administrators KPMG last month.

The top 40 UK firm announced its intentions to acquire Cobbetts almost a year after merger attempts by the two firms failed. At the time, a joint statement said talks had finished because of ‘continuing uncertain market conditions’.

Under the agreement, DWF will take on 419 staff, including partners, from the fallen firm in Leeds, Manchester, London and Birmingham. The DWF deal does not include Cobbetts’ debt recovery team, Incasso, while Walker Morris has taken the firm’s 24-strong financial litigation team.

Legal Business

Manchester market takes another hit as Cobbetts seeks saviours

Manchester market takes another hit as Cobbetts seeks saviours

With Manchester-based Cobbetts on the verge of administration, signalling increasingly difficult market conditions in the north, local rivals will surely be able to snap up some bargains and save jobs.

The firm, ranked 62nd in the LB100, announced on 30 January that it was seeking to obtain ‘statutory moratorium to enable a sale of the business and assets of the firm to be concluded in a short time’. The news has sent shockwaves across the legal market and puts Manchester at the epicentre of law firm casualties following the demise of Halliwells in 2010.

Local rival DWF, which was involved in merger talks with Cobbetts a year ago, must be thanking its lucky stars that the deal didn’t come off. Both firms cited ‘difficult economic conditions’ as the reason behind calling a halt to discussions. The truth is that Cobbetts, which was heavily geared towards corporate and real estate work, had been struggling for some time. DWF has since confirmed that it intends to acquire Cobbetts as part of its strategic growth plans.

It is believed by the members of both firms that a sale to DWF represents a solution that would secure the most favourable outcome for its creditors, members, people and clients,’ said a statement from DWF.

Last year Cobbetts posted a 2% increase in revenue, while its PEP rose by 16%. But the firm’s compound annual growth rate (CAGR) across the last five years was –5% signalling a difficulty to grow business. In 2010 revenues fell to just under £44m, down from £59m in 2008. Cobbetts’ downfall is the latest high-profile example of a firm becoming the victim of the disappearance of the transactional market and a lagging real estate sector.

Much like the Halliwells collapse, Cobbetts is now going to hope and pray that a number of white knights come storming in to swallow up and save parts of its business. Cobbetts has long maintained a reputation for quality individuals in corporate and real estate, which will present opportunities for acquisitive firms such as DWF.

One north-based management figure observed: ‘What Cobbetts tried to do was create a national brand and grow into the corporate space from a relatively smaller base. It’s a difficult task.’

‘I suspect it’s a process, they had ambitions to get to a particular point and you go out and invest in new offices, but it takes time to build those up,’ they added. ‘The recession came in so getting growth is difficult and if you’ve got new offices and you take a 5% hit on your margin – which is low anyway – it hits hard. That’s been their challenge.’

A statement from Cobbetts says:

Having regard to the difficult trading conditions in the professional services sector we have reluctantly concluded that the appropriate course at this time is for the firm to obtain the protection of an interim statutory moratorium to enable a sale of the business and assets of the firm to be concluded in a short time frame.

‘We are also working closely with our regulator, the SRA, with all stakeholders and our professional advisers to achieve the best outcome for creditors, clients, employees and members. We remain confident that we will be able to provide a further positive update in the very near future.’

This latest development shows that no firm is too big to fail and it’s crucial for all firms to ensure that they are competing at the right level in unforgiving markets.

Legal Business

Scottish fire sale continues as DWF snaps up Biggart Baillie

Merger fever continues to grip the Scottish legal market after veteran firm Biggart Baillie announced in June that it would be joining forces with ambitious Major UK firm DWF on 1 July.

The merger between Biggart Baillie, a Scottish blueblood which can trace its origins back to 1894, and LB’s 2011 National/Regional firm of the Year DWF, is the fifth Anglo-Scottish union since the start of the year. It follows a joint venture between DAC Beachcroft and Andersons, which was announced in March; the acquisition of niche Scottish practice Anderson Fyfe by TLT, which takes effect in July; the announcement in June that Shoosmiths would acquire Archibald Campbell & Harley; and the high-profile merger of Pinsent Masons and McGrigors, which went live on 1 May.

Legal Business

Leeds market set to change markedly as top tier loses talent

Firms operating in the Leeds market have been in a state of flux recently, with the region’s mid-tier firms taking advantage of the shrinking headcount at the larger players.

Despite troubling economic conditions in the Leeds market, Gateley was not deterred, and opened its Leeds office in January, marking the firm’s eighth office in the UK.

The move saw Gateley hire restructuring partner William Ballmann and finance litigator Rob Payne from Cobbetts to launch the office. Ballmann is set to run Gateley’s Leeds outpost.