New heights for Speechly Bircham 

With the UK legal profession in turmoil as staff are made redundant and offices close, it's unusual to hear about a firm expanding its flock. Marc Barber reports.

Speechly Bircham’s deal with Campbell Hooper is all about the future. Marc Barber reports

With the UK legal profession in turmoil as staff are made redundant and offices close, it’s somewhat unusual to hear about a firm deciding to expand its flock.

Michael Lingens, the managing partner of City of London law firm Speechly Bircham LLP, reasons that the decision to take on staff from Campbell Hooper is perfectly sensible. ‘In a market where every single law firm has announced redundancies and closures, taking on 90 additional staff from another practice is a bit counter-intuitive at first, until you realise that we have enough space to accommodate them.’

The move sees around 90 of Campbell Hooper’s staff join Speechly Bircham at its offices in New Street Square, just off Fleet Street, including 17 partners. This brings the total number of employees at Speechly Bircham to just over 400 and will push revenue up by 24 per cent to £57 million

‘Technically, the deal wasn’t a merger as we didn’t take over their entity, which was another LLP. Essentially, we offered everyone partnership and employment. It will put us among the top 50 UK law firms,’ states Lingens.

It’s the sort of opportunity that a recession throws up. Lingens was impressed by Campbell Hooper’s expertise in the corporate, venture capital and property sectors, in particular regeneration. Property has, of course, crashed over the past 18 months but Lingens is thinking long term: ‘From our point of view, the attraction was that we could diversify our real estate practice at the bottom of the cycle. The theory is that we will be in a great position to grow the practice when the market starts up again.’

Since the additional staff came on board, Speechly Bircham has restructured its services into three core client markets: Businesses (120 lawyers), Real Estate and Construction Sector (70 lawyers), and Private Clients (60 lawyers).

Brighter lights

A slump in both corporate and property deals has hit the legal profession hard, but there have been bright spots. ‘On the businesses side, we have seen work from employment services and banking, where there has obviously been reorganisation and restructuring, and our intellectual property and technology practice has been busy,’ says Lingens. ‘It was launched from scratch only three years ago and it now contributes close to £5 million to the firm a year, doing everything from straight IP to data protection.’

Wealth management services continue to perform strongly. ‘Unusually for a City firm, we have a substantial private client group, which is one of the largest in London and one of the top ten in the world,’ claims Lingens. ‘It isn’t affected by the recession like the transaction areas.’

While nobody is going to get too carried away, Lingens detects signs of improvement in the economy. ‘We have got through the worst in that there isn’t the sheer panic that there was before. Deals are being done and quite chunky sums are being raised on the stock market, and that could be the start of the process that needs to be undertaken of rebalancing equity for debt.’

Even amidst the gloom and doom of the property sector, Lingens has noted a glimmer of light. ‘Commercial property is an area of interest – we are working on two or three property fund formations and that is always a lead indicator that people are putting warchests together to take advantage of where we are in the cycle.’

Taking advantage of the cycle is exactly what Speechly Bircham hopes to achieve with the Campbell Hooper arrangement. In particular, Campbell Hooper’s specialism in the field of urban regeneration where clients include Countryside Properties, Barretts, Berkely Homes and Belway Homes. ‘The teams has a robust projects pipeline which includes the £5 billion brownfield regeneration of the Greenwich Peninsula,’ observes Lingens. ‘A lot of the schemes have effectively been mothballed for a while but they will, in our view, resume in the not too distant future as the demand for new housing is still there.’

To find out more about Speechly Bircham click here

Marc Barber

Marc Barber

Marc was editor of GrowthBusiness from 2006 to 2010. He specialised in writing about entrepreneurs, private equity and venture capital, mid-market M&A, small caps and high-growth businesses.

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