Legal Business

Five partners exit Irwin Mitchell as real estate team leaves for Dentons and Howard Kennedy


Irwin Mitchell has lost five partners from its London real estate practice, with a four-partner team defecting to Dentons and one joining Howard Kennedy.

London real estate head Rob Thompson joins Dentons with partners Lewis Myers, Rupert Dowdell and head of corporate real estate Jayne Schnider. London planning and infrastructure head Martha Grekos is expected to join Howard Kennedy.

Irwin Mitchell’s City real estate practice has been hit by a wave of departures this summer, with partners Jo Footitt and Louise Cartwright moving to Osborne Clarke in June.

Much of the Irwin Mitchell’s real estate team, including Thompson, Myers, Dowdell and Footit, originally left legacy SJ Berwin to join Irwin Mitchell in 2010 as part of a 20 strong team move, while Grekos arrived Irwin Mitchell less than 18 months ago from Eversheds.

Dentons UK managing partner Brandon Ransley said: ‘This is an excellent opportunity for us to acquire four market-leading real estate-focused partners. These partners have worked together for many years, and their arrival will add heavyweight investment expertise to our credentials, while significantly enhancing our existing capacity to deliver the corporate and finance aspects of big-ticket real estate transactions, both in the UK and internationally.’

The international firm also recently strengthened its London corporate practice with the hire of Jonathan Cantor from Nabarro, who specialises in real estate investment.

Legal Business

Irwin Mitchell promotes six females in 13-strong round


Irwin Mitchell has increased diversity within its partnership in this year’s promotion round, with six females making the cut out of 13 total appointments.

Taking effect on 1 May, eight promotions were made within the firm’s personal legal services division, four within its business legal services division and one in the firm’s asset management department. The firm focused on practices including banking and finance, real estate, corporate and commercial, personal injury, court of protection, and public law across its Bristol, Birmingham, London, Newcastle, Leeds, Sheffield and Southampton offices.

The promotion round also includes associate Ed Tomlinson appointed to associate director, the partner-level equivalent for non-lawyers.

It’s a significant leap on last year’s numbers when seven lawyers made it to partner – although notably six of those promoted were female also.

The news follows the launch of Irwin Mitchell’s private wealth business last week, and its merger last year with law firm Thomas Eggar that gave combined revenues of £250m. Irwin Mitchell has carved a name for itself in the private client space also having acquired Mayfair boutique Berkeley Law in November 2014.

Irwin Mitchell group chief executive Andrew Tucker said: ‘Partner appointments represent a major investment in our people and reflect the hard work and dedication each person has given to our clients over the past years. Added to the extensive investment we have made in our business over the past year, these appointments show the range of experience we have to offer clients and leave us in a good position to continue our growth plans.’

Partner promotions 2016:

Tim Annett, personal injury, Sheffield

Andrew Buckham, personal injury, Southampton

Rohan Campbell, banking and finance, London

James Knowles, real estate, Leeds

Rob Laugharne, corporate and commercial, Birmingham

Jennifer Lund, personal injury, London

Claire Newstead, personal injury, Leeds

Paul Smith, corporate and commercial, London

Justine Spencer, personal injury, Southampton

Polly Sweeney, public law, Bristol

Katie Thackray, court of protection, Newcastle

Charlotte Waite, court of protection, Bristol

Irwin Mitchell Asset Management

Ed Tomlinson, chartered financial planner, Sheffield

Legal Business

Irwin Mitchell top earner pay falls as employee costs up 7%, accounts reveal


LB25 firm Irwin Mitchell has slashed the amount given to its highest paid earner by 30% from £1.22m to £849,000, despite a lift in profits, the firm’s accounts show.

The accounts, which cover Irwin Mitchell’s LLP as well as its alternative business structures, said the firm had almost 8% more fee earners in 2014/15 from 1,256 to 1,351 and eight more administrative staff to 809 people. This lead to an increase in the firm’s payroll costs by 7% to £70.13m from £65.51m.

The accounts also reveal the firm’s net cash position at 30 April 2015 has improved from a deficit of £713,000 to a positive balance of £801,000. The firm has a £45m revolving credit facility and a £15m bank overdraft which runs until March 2018.

While the firm has more cash in the bank, the amount it owes to creditors has risen – the firm reports trade creditors are owed £49.63m up from £39.94m, while other creditors are owed £90.7m from £72m. The sum owed to other creditors includes cash deferrals relating to recent acquisitions Berkeley Law and MPH Solicitors.

Irwin Mitchell announced its takeover of private weath boutique Berkeley in November 2014. The accounts show the transaction valued Berkeley at almost £9m, made up of £4.6m in shares, cash of £1.75m and deferred consideration of £2.6m.

The acquisition of MPH Solicitors, which was bought in November 2013, brought in £3.4m in turnover and £1.2m in operating profit in its first full financial year to April 2015, was also part purchased on a deferred credit basis, as such the total sum still owed to other creditors at balance day on the purchase of MPH and Berkeley was £3.25m.

In its directors’ report the firm said the 4% growth in group revenue from £203m to £211m reflected continuing growth in its complex PI and business legal services operations further offset by the decline in PI revenues as a result of legal reform in the area. Pre-tax profit was up 6% to £181m from £171m.

‘The directors plan to grow all areas of the business during FY16 with through a combination of further recruitment, investment in the Irwin Mitchell brand, organic growth and further M&A activities as opportunities allow,’ the accounts state.

The accounts were not impacted by Irwin Mitchell’s recent takeover of Thomas Eggar, which was announced in November 2015.

Legal Business

Market reaction: jury still out on Irwin Mitchell’s £40m takeover of Thomas Eggar


In a move that demonstrates consolidation is still very much on trend for national law firms, Irwin Mitchell’s continuation of its aggressive expansion policy by merging with the south-east based Thomas Eggar this month has garnered a mixed reaction from the market.

It is clear that Irwin Mitchell – a law firm traditionally known for its personal injury work as its omnipresent TV advertising campaigns have proved – has been moving further into the private client and commercial sectors following its acquisition of Mayfair boutique Berkeley Law a year ago. The national firm has needed to significantly diversify its revenue streams, with PI fees being hit hard and another government crackdown on claims recently announced in the Autumn Statement.

This push into private client and commercial services has been enhanced by its merger with Thomas Eggar, which is regarded as having a heavyweight private client practice in the south east and cited as top tier in the regional section of The Legal 500 for planning and sports law.

‘It is interesting because of Irwin Mitchell’s acquisition of Berkeley Law last year,’ says one partner in the management team at a national firm. ‘Clearly they are very interested in private client – we thought the Berkeley Law acquisition was very interesting because that was a very top quality, niche private client practice. Private client can be really profitable but you have to be in the right part of the market. You have to be doing it for relatively high-net-worth people.’

According to another peer, Irwin Mitchell had been looking in the south east for some time for the last few years in a bid to build out its national coverage. The firm already has a Southampton office, but it is one of its smaller offerings with 27 staff.

‘From their perspective I can see why it makes sense because they were desperate to get some big footprint in the south-east of England. They are strong in the north and the midlands; they have a Scottish operation. They have wide coverage but if they want to be a truly national firm I guess they had to have a proper flag in the ground in the south east.’

The acquisition of Thomas Eggar is the largest individual deal in Irwin Mitchell’s history, and those at the firm are upfront about continued expansion being a major part of the firm’ strategy – through further acquisitions and growing organically.

A spokesperson for the firm said it would be looking for further organic growth but would also make acquistions where they would clearly add value to shareholders. The firm brought in a head of corporate finance – Chris Belsham – in 2014, whose role is to look for new opportunities.

As for funding this rapid growth, many touted Irwin Mitchell as the firm most likely to pioneer a law firm IPO in the UK before Gateley broke that particular ground this year. Irwin Mitchell had turned to its banks for finance in 2014, converting its overdraft facility into a £60m loan package.

But while Irwin Mitchell appears to have all but abandoned the idea of going to the public markets for now it was particulalrly vocal about the advantages of floating on the stock exchange back in 2011 and is known to have brought in some heavweight lateral hires on the basis that a signifcant capital payout was likely.

The firm says it has not ruled an IPO out. ‘As far as an IPO is concerned we are often looking at it because why wouldn’t we in terms of understanding if it’s right for our business in terms of raising money?’ says the spokesperson. ‘It’s not something that’s key to us, it’s just an option like it is for lots of other companies.’

Overall, this latest tie-up with 175-lawyer Thomas Eggar – which has six offices in Chichester, Gatwick, London, Newbury, Southampton and Worthing – looks to be a good bolt-on for Irwin Mitchell. However, some in the market are sceptical about the benefits for the smaller south-east outfit.

Irwin Mitchell may have originally approached Thomas Eggar regarding the tie-up but one partner at a rival regional player firm suggests that Thomas Eggar would have been only too happy to merge, given recent struggles with profitability. The firm announced flat revenues of £41.1m for the financial year 2014/15, although revenues are up 18% since 2010. Profitability is weaker than a number of LB100 firms based in the south, including Stevens & Bolton, Cripps and Birketts.

‘Profits per equity partner were £259,000 last year,’ adds the partner. ‘For a firm of that size in terms of headcount and turnover – it’s just not good enough really. And I suspect that Vicky Brackett [Thomas Eggar’s managing partner] was desperate to find some solution to try and improve profitability because when you have low profits you can’t keep your best people. It’s a fact of life. Nor can you attract good new people. Whether this is the answer, I just don’t know.’

Speaking to Legal Business earlier this year, Brackett said the firm had been approached almost every day for a merger and would merge in the right circumstances, including geographic advantage, and the deepening of a particular service line that is selling well – ‘ the ‘expertise merger.’ She also mentioned that consolidation was ‘certainly on the radar.’

On that basis certainly there are obvious attractions to the union. Yet for all the talk of practice synergies and geographic spread coming out of the two firms, there remains little information on the cultural fit. It remains to be seen how a predominantly northern personal injury firm known for its acquisitive nature will gel with a traditional south east firm with a strong focus on private client work.

Not that cultural fit particularly matters in what is by any measure a takeover by the sprawling national player. Thomas Eggar will adopt Irwin Mitchell’s brand in the first half of 2016, while Brackett will join its executive board. The 22 equity partners at Thomas Eggar will be become full share partners at Irwin Mitchell, according to the firm.

The interesting question is whether being ‘the legal brand of choice’ will carry much weight with wealthy landowners in Sussex, or with some of Thomas Eggar’s experienced private client partners.

Legal Business

The £250m ‘expertise merger’: Irwin Mitchell agrees takeover of south east stalwart Thomas Eggar


After six months of talks national firm Irwin Mitchell and LB100 firm Thomas Eggar have voted to approve their union, creating an £250m firm with plans to establish a leading private wealth business.

Announced today (26 November) the addition of Thomas Eggar to Irwin Mitchell’s 700-lawyer, £210m practice would be a more than credible addition to its business in the area outside the M25. 175-lawyer Thomas Eggar has six offices in Chichester, Gatwick, London, Newbury, Southampton and Worthing.

While Thomas Eggar’s revenues for 2014/15 were flat at £41m, the firm has seen an 18% increase in turnover over the last five years. It is regarded as having a heavyweight private client practice and is cited as top tier in The Legal 500 for planning and sports law.

Irwin Mitchell has carved a name for itself in the private client space also having acquired Mayfair boutique Berkeley Law in November 2014. 

Contracts have been signed and the merger is expected to formally complete in December. All 450 Thomas Eggar employees, including 67 partners, transfer to Irwin Mitchell after a Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations (TUPE) process beginning today.

Thomas Eggar will adopt the national firm’s brand in the first half of 2016 while  managing partner Vicky Brackett will join Irwin Mitchell’s executive board.

Speaking to Legal Business earlier this year, Brackett said Thomas Eggar would seek out a merger to improve its strategic positioning, with reasons cited including gaining geographic advantage and deepening particular service lines to create an ‘expertise merger’.

Today, Brackett said: ‘We did engage in talks with other firms. Then, we were approached by Irwin Mitchell. The need to consolidate arises from client demand and provides a much better service.’

She added that there will be no requirement for partners to serve particular notice periods as a result of the merger, and that the firms’ remuneration structures were broadly the same. As such she said management would not be looking to review the model in the foreseeable future.

Thomas Eggar, according to the latest Legal Business 100 report, has 22 equity partners with a PEP of £259,000. They will all become full share partners at Irwin Mitchell. 

Irwin Mitchell group chief executive Andrew Tucker added: ‘This deal will significantly add to the value and diversification of our business and act as a catalyst for further growth. It will add significant additional scale to our Business Legal Services division which, if it were a standalone business, would now be a top-50 legal firm in its own right.’          


Legal Business

Due south: Irwin Mitchell in takeover talks with Thomas Eggar


National firm Irwin Mitchell is in merger discussions with LB100 firm Thomas Eggar with a view to extending its reach in the south east.

According to, the two firms have been in talks for some weeks now, although staff have not yet been informed of any concrete plans yet.

The addition of Thomas Eggar to Irwin Mitchell’s 700-lawyer, £210m practice would give it a more than credible business in the area outside the M25. The 175-lawyer firm has six offices in Chichester, Gatwick, London, Newbury, Southampton and Worthing. Thomas Eggar’s revenues for 2014/15 were flat at £41m, although the firm has seen an 18% increase in turnover over the last five years.

Thomas Eggar has a full commercial offering but is particularly noted as having a heavyweight private client practice and is top-ranked in The Legal 500 for planning and sports law.

Spokesmen at both firms said they would not comment.

A Thomas Eggar spokesman said: ‘At any given time the firm is considering a number of opportunities, but we do not provide comment on speculation.’

However, speaking to Legal Business this summer as part of our LB100 coverage, the firm’s managing partner Vicky Brackett said that Thomas Eggar will look for a merger to improve its strategic positioning, but not at any cost.

She added: ‘We are approached almost every day for a merger. We would merge for a few reasons. The first would be for geographic advantage – there are areas of work we do that would be complemented by particular geographies. We would merge for a deepening to a particular service line that we are selling well – the expertise merger.

‘I am not an advocate of taking a firm the same as ours and adding it together just so you have a bigger turnover, because all you do then is have more of the same and more of the costs. So you double your costs and double your revenue and you literally get two plus two equals four. You need the profitability to drive the investment frankly.’

A tie-up with Irwin Mitchell would certainly meet much of the criteria set out above, with the top-25 firm offering Thomas Eggar a geographic reach far beyond the south east.

Legal Business

Financials 2014/15: Irwin Mitchell outperforms insurance peers with 4% turnover growth


Irwin Mitchell has outperformed the relatively flat growth of its insurance-focused peers with modest turnover growth of 4% from £202.7m to £210.6m, along with a 6% rise in profits before tax from £17.1m to £18.1m.

Irwin Mitchell’s group chief executive Andrew Tucker attributed the performance to a mixture of organic growth and investment over the last couple of years which included the acquisition of private wealth law firm Berkeley Law, opening of a new office in Cambridge and the launch of IMe Law, an alternative business structure (ABS) venture with FTSE250 insurer esure.

‘In 2013/14, we took very deliberate decisions to sacrifice a proportion of profit to invest even further in our business and we are beginning to see the return on those and earlier investments with both an increase in income and profit before tax,’ said Tucker.

He added: ‘We have continued with our investment strategy during 2014/15 and this is evident not just in the acquisitions and partner hires that we have made, but in our investment in high profile marketing campaigns, our commitment to widening our UK-wide footprint with new office openings and further investment in our infrastructure.’

Irwin Mitchell has made six acquisitions since it became an ABS in 2012 and in March 2014 announced that it had secured a £60m four-year finance package with an additional £30m ‘accordion’ facility with HSBC, Lloyds and the Royal Bank of Scotland to fund its strategic plan to grow its business ‘substantially’.

As part of this expansion, the firm embarked on a major recruitment programme, which included 29 partner hires and an additional 10 partner promotions in 2014/15.

So far this year law firms with large insurance practices have suffered poor performances with DWF and Kennedys flatlining while Hill Dickinson and Ince & Co saw revenue fall by over 5%.

Legal Business

Revolving doors: Pinsents and Irwin Mitchell both hire from CRS as Gateley brings in two new partners


With the summer break fast approaching, there was a flurry in the lateral market among law firms last week as they looked to sign off key appointments. Pinsent Masons and Irwin Mitchell both turned to Charles Russell Speechlys (CRS) partners for strategic appointments while Gateley made two laterals.

Pinsents hired CRS’ financial services practice head Elizabeth Budd to bolster its financial regulatory group as the firm targeted banking, insurance and asset management work in the City.

Budd specialises in advising asset and fund managers on the evolving regulatory landscape in both the UK and the EU. On the funds side she has established funds structured as unit trusts, open ended investment companies and limited partnerships both onshore and offshore. She has also advised asset managers regarding the Financial Conduct Authority’s increased supervision and enforcement action as well as regulatory changes.

The hire follows the firm’s recruitment of David Heffron from Addleshaw Goddard to lead its financial regulation group earlier this year. John Salmon, head of financial services at Pinsents, said: ‘We continue to see a high level of demand for regulatory advice from our clients in the banking, insurance and asset management sectors and are investing in our City-based team accordingly. The appointment of David and Elizabeth in quick succession is a real signal of intent – our clients value our innovative approach allied to significant sector knowledge. Pinsent Masons’ vision is to become an international market-leader in the sectors in which we operate, and this appointment moves us forward a significant step in the financial services arena.’

Irwin Mitchell also found CRS a productive hunting ground – hiring partner Penny Cogher. Joining the pensions team, which has grown to four partners with the addition of Martin Jenkins in the City to head the team in December 2014 and Andrew Ashley Taylor in Manchester in May this year, Cogher comes with 23-years’ experience in the field.

Having primarily advised charities and not-for-profit bodies, she advises on regulation, compliance, risk management, funding disputes, public sector outsourcing, and use of contingent asset arrangements. On defined contribution schemes, she advises on governance, the newly introduced 2015/2016 flexibilities, life assurance and on tax for high net worth individuals.

Niall Baker, partner and chief executive at Irwin Mitchell, said: ‘Penny is the tenth partner to join our Business Legal Services side of the firm since the start of 2015, showing our commitment to building our business expertise and attracting high-calibre lawyers. Our pensions department is going from strength to strength. Pensions are a key concern for our clients in an ever changing legislative environment. We are delighted to have someone of Penny’s experience and reputation joining the firm. We remain committed to investing in the growth of our business team further.’

Meanwhile, Gateley has made two appointments. The national firm hired two partners to boost its litigation and employment. Benedict Gorner joins the firm from DLA Piper, where he made partner having joined the global firm from Eversheds in 2002. Gorner covers a broad range of employment law covering all aspects of contentious and non-contentious work with a particular specialism in TUPE and change management programmes. Three-office Watson Burton also lost the head of its commercial litigation practice, Andrew Johnson, to the publicly-listed law firm. Johnson has previously acted for a range of companies including Bellway, Microsoft, Colas and the University of Leicester. Gateley also appointed a new director of Client and Market Development, Fiona Holland, from PwC.

Meanwhile, also on the national scene was Bevan Brittan’s move on Andrew Shaw at TLT. The property partner joined the firm with a specialism in social housing, though the exit from TLT’s social housing team was partially offset by the firm’s hire of Lewis Silkin’s real estate specialist Linda Convery and social housing partner Gillian Bastow.

Jonathan Turner, head of housing at Bevan Brittan, commented: ‘The housing sector is facing a number of challenges with changes to Right to Buy and Welfare Reform looming. The impact of these policy changes on Registered Provider development programmes could be significant at a time when there is growing pressure on housing stock numbers. Organisations need to ensure that they are structuring their portfolios effectively and, where appropriate, maximising development delivery through exploring new cross-sector partnership models between Registered Providers, Local Authorities and Health Trusts. Andrew will be an important addition to our team.’

Legal Business

Winning work: TLT picks up Halliwells dispute as Irwin Mitchell loses out


TLT has been gifted with a key mandate to defend a group of 26 former Halliwells partners in a dispute with the firm’s liquidator, as well as the appeal of a further case involving nine other former partners, after Irwin Mitchell was dropped from both cases.

The dispute, which has been ongoing for five years, involves an argument with the Manchester-based law firm’s liquidator over liabilities related to its collapse in 2010.

The liquidator is seeking millions of pounds from the now defunct firm’s former fixed share partners, following claims that those members had knowledge of the firm’s insolvency prior to it entering a formal administration process.

TLT commercial litigation partner John Lord, who joined the firm from Irwin Mitchell in 2013, is lead partner on the case. Addleshaw Goddard is acting for the liquidator, BDO, with Alison Goldthorp leading.

Manchester-based restructuring partner John Vickery had previously acted for Irwin Mitchell on the case, alongside fellow restructuring partner Chris Jones who left the firm in 2013 to join gunnercooke.

TLT, with Julien Luke as lead, has also picked up the instruction on the appeal of a High Court decision in October which saw Irwin Mitchell successfully act for Steven Fennell. The former Halliwells partner won a declaration to prevent a claim from the liquidators of £125,000 for alleged overdrawings and the case was used as a test for eight other partners – Judith Bloor, Cameron Clarke, Niall Edwards, David Fearon, Suzanne Liversidge, Helen Snowball, Heidi Swales and Gregor Woods – who all left Halliwells for Kennedys and who all agreed to be bound by the decision.

Irwin Mitchell instructed Jonathan Adkin QC of Serle Court, while Addleshaw Goddard represented Halliwells and its liquidators, and instructed Lexa Hilliard QC of 11 Stone Buildings.

Legal Business

Irwin Mitchell’s outgoing chief executive John Pickering on change in the sector and why it was time to hang up his boots


Announcing his retirement last month, Irwin Mitchell’s longstanding head and current group chief executive John Pickering pointed to ‘the changing legal sector’ and his desire for the firm to have settled long-term senior management.

Speaking to Legal Business, Pickering (pictured), who joined the firm as an articled clerk in 1977 and now plans to pursue non-executive director positions elsewhere, explains his reasoning behind the decision.

The changing legal sector seems like Irwin Mitchell’s ideal market, why did you decide to resign now?

I’ve led us through a period of very significant change, from a partnership to a corporate entity [in May 2011], and that’s been going for three years now.

We’d come to an appropriate point in the strategy, things are going well. It’s a continuous strategy, which looks out over years and is an evolutionary journey for the firm. But the timing was good and we’ve done an awful lot of things: we’ve changed the structure of the firm; got all the ABS licences in place; done a lot of deals; gone through the £200m mark; grown the client base; we’ve seen huge expansion over the last year; and put the new bank finance facility in place. An awful lot of things have been ticked off so it’s a reasonable time for me to hand it over to someone else.

How do you see Irwin Mitchell developing?

The strategic model we’ve built enables continuity. The idea is to grow the business.

The whole market is changing, we see it as the business of law, it’s a consolidating marketplace and we want to be a major player in it. Merger activity is certainly something that’s in our contemplation.

We felt that an ABS was a mechanism that was useful for the growth of the firm. We see the practice of law as being a bit more sophisticated, more about legal and related services, something that our business has already taken on board.

So the ABS vehicle is something that makes a lot of sense for our business model and as, or when, we want to, it enables us to bring in external investment.

Having put the ABS model and corporate model in place we’ve then been able to bring in some other highly competent skill-sets like our non-executive chairman, non-executive board member, and chief finance officer.

How have you seen the firm change during your time?

If you think of where Irwin Mitchell was, it was a little Sheffield firm not known outside the City, a small magistrates court practice, and when I joined I think there were about 30-40 lawyers. Now we’ve got over 2,200 and we’ve gone from nowhere into the top 20. The change I’ve seen and been part of has been enormous. I’m very proud of it.