Halliwells LLP

  • Overview
THE SCOOP

Manchester-based Halliwells has built up a significant reputation from its regional roots, standing shoulder to shoulder with major national players.  The firm boasts a major presence in North Western deal markets, together with a national reputation for its AIM work.  In the North West, the firm’s banking, construction and litigation teams are on a par with many of the larger national firms.  The firm’s clients include such names as Cable & Wireless, Everton Football Club, RBS and Tesco. Although the firm has had to tighten its belt several times in the last year, it nevertheless remains one of the busiest dealmakers in the region.

Northern roots

From its origins in Manchester among local rivals Pannone and Cobbetts, Halliwells, or as it was known then, Halliwells Laundau, underwent a period of significant expansion in the 1990s in which the firm doubled its turnover in three years.  At the same time, Halliwells set up an office in London, took its headcount from 125 to more than 300 and crossed the £20 million turnover line in financial year 1999-2000.

In 2004, the firm became simply Halliwells, converted to limited liability partnership status and underwent a significant shift in its pay structure.  The firm moved from an “eat what you kill†scheme to a modified lock-step system with a performance-related element.  The following year, the firm overhauled its structure, reducing its 16 practice groupings to a more manageable six: business services, corporate, corporate recovery, trusts and estates, real estate and dispute resolution.

Finding the bottom line

While the past four years saw Halliwells double in turnover and staff numbers, in 2007-2008 revenue slipped from £88.3 million to £87.5 million.  Burdened by the extra cost of bringing its staff under one roof in Manchester’s Spinningfields development as well as by the market downturn, the firm has undergone no less than four rounds of redundancies since March 2008.  Twenty-six staff in the firm’s real estate practice lost their jobs following a consultation in September, while 10 banking and corporate fee earners were placed under consultation in October.  A number of losses also shook the firm earlier in 2008, not least among them the departure of corporate chief Julian Lewis to join Fladgate Fielder’s M&A team. 

The firm sought to place its finances in order in December 2008, with equity partners being asked to make mandatory contributions to assist with the reorganisation.  The firm also took the somewhat unusual step of concluding a debenture agreement with Royal Bank of Scotland, in effect using the firm’s assets to secure a £19.4 million loan.  In March 2009, the firm entered its fourth round of redundancy talks, with 30 jobs at risk, the majority of them reportedly in practices related to real estate.  In addition, the firm has deferred its 2009 and 2010 trainee intakes, providing a payment of £2,000 to those deferring for six months and £4,000 for trainees deferring for a full year. 

On a more positive note, in the spring of 2009, the firm announced the promotions of five fixed-share partners, with two lawyers made up in employment and one each in the corporate recovery, dispute resolution and pensions departments.  Managing Partner Ian Austin cited the strong performance of the contentious practice when revealing the firm’s 2008-2009 financial figures.  Although total turnover dropped to £83 million, Austin predicted that profits would be comparable to the previous year, when PEP reached £400,000.
TRAINEES TALK

Seats abound

Halliwells offers five seat rotations instead of four, and many trainees rave about the “excellent scope†of work they get to tackle.  “The work is well varied, and different teams within the department are happy to pass various files to you to enable you to get as much experience as possible,†one trainee says.  In general, trainees say the firm has tried to satisfy their seat allocation preferences.  “Whilst you are sometimes pushed into a seat you might not have considered, this is often for your own benefit and enables you to make a more informed choice upon the next seat rotation,†explains a second-year.  Hours vary by department, with a few trainees saying they worked intense hours in the corporate department but had a lighter load in insurance and litigation.  But most insiders find that they are working as many hours as they expected.  “Overall, there seems to be an ethos of working long hours when and if necessary, but not staying late just because it is part of the firm’s culture,†one trainee reports.

A solid grounding

Some trainees at Halliwells say their responsibility levels have grown over time, while others say they received a heavy load from the start, along with “lots of supportâ€.  “If you prove yourself you will be treated with the appropriate respect and will be allowed more responsibility,†one trainee says.  Partner contact is frequent, and trainees enjoy “constructive feedback†from supervisors.  “For my past two seats, I have shared an office with a partner, which has provided valuable experience,†a first-year says.  In the words of one survey respondent, “My confidence in my own ability has increased massively throughout the course of my training contract and I am excited about my future as a qualified solicitor.† Nevertheless, the “current economic climateâ€, combined with Halliwells’ large intake, has a few trainees worried about the prospects of landing a job after qualification.

Work hard, then play hard

The culture at Halliwells is hardworking, but also friendly, relaxed and helpful.  “I am in a very supportive team,†one trainee says.  “There is a great atmosphere within the department, and I feel that I can approach anyone with queries that I have.† Particularly in Manchester, there seems to be a lively mix of organised social events and informal outings.  Trainees often go out for lunch or for “a drink or several†on Friday nights.  “Halliwells is well known for the social life which it offers to trainees,†a second-year explains.  “The firm’s culture is welcoming of work/life balance, and you can definitely work hard and play hard if you have the stamina.â€Moving ahead

Despite the downturn, Halliwells’ transactional lawyers have remained busy.  The firm was the most active advisor on deals in the North West in both 2007 and 2008, according to data gathered by Corpfin.  And research from Zephyr published in Crain’s Manchester Business ranked the firm the most active legal advisor in Manchester for the first quarter of 2009.  Among the transactions Halliwells completed in that time were the £92.8 million sale of Tepnel Life Sciences to Gen-Probe and the £83.4 million sale of JJB Sports’ gym business to the company’s founder and former owner, Dave Whelan.  Halliwells represented JJB Sports in that transaction, as well as in an earlier reassignment of four retail stores’ leases to Sportsdirect.com for a cash consideration of £3.4 million.

Also on the property side, Halliwells was instructed by a new client, Glossop Land, to carry out the regeneration of a town centre in Derbyshire.  The redevelopment of the Howard Town Mills site in Glossop involved agreements with Sainsbury’s Supermarkets, which is looking to open a store on the site.  In other deals since the start of 2009, Halliwells advised Ernst & Young on the pre-pack administration of Riley’s, and acted for Canterbury of New Zealand in the four-year extension of its deal with SA Rugby to outfit the South Africa Springboks with their playing jersey and provide other on- and off-field apparel.  Halliwells was also called on in connection with the restructuring of Countrywide, the largest residential estate agency in the UK.  The firm advised the directors of Castle Holdco, the holding company for Countrywide.

On the contentious front, Halliwells recently secured a place on the Treasury Solicitor’s Department’s new litigation and regulatory panel, which offers advice to the Department’s in-house legal staff.  The work gained through the panel will primarily include accident claims, clinical negligence and industrial disease.  

New awards in sight

At the Legal Technology Awards 2009, Halliwells’ IT team took home the “National IT Team of the Year†award for the second consecutive year, while being highly commended in the Most Client Focused Law Firm and City/National IT Director categories.  The firm’s IT team were particularly recognised for innovative systems such as “The Volume Academyâ€, a means of tackling high volumes of work in a cost-effective manner, and “InSightâ€, a system targeting motor insurance fraud.

Speaking of volume, in May 2009, the firm announced that HL Interactive, its volume business specialising in credit services, debt recovery, re-mortgage and residential conveyancing, was being sold to a management team led by Matt Wightman, HL Interactive’s chief executive.  Halliwells retains a 10 per cent stake in the business.

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Halliwells LLP


3 Hardman Square
Spinningfields
Manchester M3 3EB
Phone: +44 (0)870 365 8000
www.halliwells.com

STATS


  • Employer Type: Private
  • Managing partner: Ian Austin
  • Total No. Attorneys 2009: 368

Major Office Locations

  • London, United Kingdom
  • Manchester, United Kingdom
  • Liverpool, United Kingdom
  • Sheffield , United Kingdom

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