Legal Business

Weightmans and Ward Hadaway ‘mutually withdraw’ from merger discussions

Weightmans and Ward Hadaway ‘mutually withdraw’ from merger discussions

Weightmans and Newcastle-based Ward Hadaway have ended merger discussions which would have created a £130.8m national firm after ‘both firms reached a consensus their respective strategic priorities were not sufficiently aligned to invest in such a significant merger.’

In a statement, Weightmans managing partner John Schorah said that following discussions it became clear that both firms wanted different things from their respective futures.

Schorah (pictured) added: ‘Weightmans’ new structure will be in place on 1 May as part of a comprehensive strategic review. We will continue to focus on growing a balanced practice of defendant insurance work as well as litigation, transaction and advisory services to our clients, whilst further developing our innovative technology to meet changing client needs.’

Ward Hadaway’s managing partner Jamie Martin said: ‘We have enjoyed talking to John Schorah and his team and getting to know the people at Weightmans a bit better and we wish them well for the future.

‘Nevertheless, we wish to continue to pursue our strategy of developing a ‘Northern Law Firm for National Business’ across our three offices in Newcastle, Leeds and Manchester and our focus on providing legal services to Northern-based businesses.’

Legal Business first revealed details of the merger discussions in January. Both firms were understood to have been in talks since early 2016.

If the talks had been successful, they would have created a national firm with offices in Newcastle, Birmingham, Dartford, Glasgow, Knutsford, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, London and Manchester. Both firms have a presence in Leeds and Manchester but any merger would have provided Weightmans with a strong foothold in the North East.

Although Weightmans is substantially larger than Ward Hadaway with turnover of £95m for 2015/16 compared to Ward Hadaway’s £35.8m, profit per equity partner (PEP) at the Newcastle firm soared 49% in the last financial year to £336,000, while in contrast PEP at Weightmans fell 19% to £231,000.

Weightmans is no stranger to mergers, combining with local Leeds firm Ford & Warren in 2015 to create a firm with revenues of around £100m and headcount of over 1,400. The merger provided Weightmans with a new base in Leeds, giving the firm a presence in nine UK locations, with two offices apiece in London and Manchester. Management at Weightmans, whose practice centres on defending medical and clinical negligence claims, are aiming to consolidate these into cost-efficient single offices with the London office consolidated into one office this year, and Manchester in 2018.

Meanwhile Ward Hadaway employs more than 450 staff, with 80 partners across three offices.

Legal Business

Host of top 100 firms disclose increase in turnover as profit proves a more variable metric

Host of top 100 firms disclose increase in turnover as profit proves a more variable metric

A host of UK top 100 legal firms including Holman Fenwick Willan, Ward Hadaway, Gateley, Shoosmiths and Sacker & Partners have all reported revenue increases for 2012/13 amidst highly variable profit figures.

Top 30 UK firm Holman Fenwick Willan has seen its turnover increase by 13.8% at the 2012/13 year-end to £141m, while net profit jumped by 17% to £38m, up from £32.4m the previous year. However average profit per equity partner (PEP) at the 450-lawyer firm climbed by a modest 1% from £525,000 to £530,000, largely a result of the addition of 10 new equity partners over the past year, taking the total to 72.

Meanwhile national top 40 firm Shoosmiths has seen a slightly more modest 3% rise in turnover while PEP dropped 9.7% from £298,000 to £269,000 as the firm pointed to the rise in average equity partner numbers from 40 to 45 during the year. It was a year that saw the firm expand into Scotland through its merger with Archibald Campbell & Harley last autumn. The lion’s share of the firm’s revenue came from its disputes and corporate practices, which made up 30% and 22% respectively.

Elsewhere, top 50 full service national outfit Gateley enjoyed a significant boost in profits over the past year, with PEP up 22% from £214,000 to £262,000 while revenue rose 7% from £61.5m to £66m. The 462-lawyer firm opened a new office in Leeds in January 2012 and bulked up its City premises with a move to 1 Paternoster Square last October. The firm’s equity spread now ranges from £140,000 to £550,000, up from £104,000 to £400,000 at the 2011/12 year end.

Enjoying a double digit increase in turnover was top 90 firm Ward Hadaway, which today (11 July) posted a 10% rise in revenue from £30m last year to £33m while average PEP went up from £281,000 in 2011/12 to £322,000 at last financial year end on the back of ‘significant investment’.

The UK top 100 firm opened its main Manchester office in July 2012 and grew its private client services, which saw income jump by 64%. Corporate finance and commercial services saw their income grow by 36% and 14% respectively.

Jamie Martin, managing partner at Ward Hadaway, said: ‘The marketplace for legal services is becoming ever more competitive with new entrants coming in to the sector and existing firms ramping up their efforts to secure greater market share.

‘Combined with pressures on costs and the overall economic climate, it is a difficult market at the moment so we have done incredibly well to achieve double digit growth against such a backdrop.’

In a year that has seen boutiques flourish, pensions specialists Sacker & Partners saw its PEP dip by 11% from £860,000 to £765,000 following the addition of three new partners this year, which gives the top 100 firm 16.4 full-time equivalent equity partners. At the top of its equity the firm nonetheless enjoys profits more on a par with the Magic Circle; the highest earning equity partner at the firm took home £1.15m, up from £1.1m last year while at the bottom of the equity partners took home £362,000, 8% less than last year’s figure of £395,000. Turnover saw a slight increase up from £24m 2011/12 year end to £24.3m this April.