Squire, Sanders & Dempsey (UK) LLP

  • Overview

Hammonds' primary strengths lie in mid-market and AIM corporate work, property, employment, energy and dispute resolution.  The firm, which is nearing its 150th birthday, has had something of a roller-coaster ride over the last decade.  Rapid expansion in the 1990s led to plummeting profits, followed by an exodus of talent.  Profits in the 21st century have vacillated wildly, with earnings bouncing from profit to loss and back again.  However, Managing Partner Peter Crossley pointed out at the start of 2009 that the firm's litigation team has performed well, bringing in 21 per cent of revenue, and that significant corporate work was in the pipeline.  

A world's eye view

Founded in Bradford in 1864 by Albert Victor Hammond, the firm's climb into the limelight kicked off in 1988 when it merged with local firm Last Suddards to form Hammond Suddards.  Both firms had offices in Leeds, which were merged and later became the firm's headquarters.  The new firm focused its efforts on commercial law and made a name for itself in the Yorkshire legal market.  Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, it capitalised on the increase in M&A activity which followed the large number of private businesses going public and advised on a number of high-profile deals.  On the back of this success, Hammond Suddards considered the time ripe for expansion: in 1990, the firm opened an office in Brussels, followed by a London office in 1991 and one in Manchester in 1993.

A further merger in 2000, this time with Edge Ellison, saw the creation of Hammond Suddards Edge, at the time the seventh-largest commercial law firm in the UK.  The firm began to expand internationally in earnest, opening offices in Berlin and Munich in 2001, merging with the Paris-based Hausmann & Association, and opening an office in Hong Kong.  A relationship with Italian firm Rossotto e Association formed in 2002 added links to offices in Turin, Milan, Rome and Aosta, while a Madrid office was acquired in 2003.

Lock-ins and lease-outs

Unfortunately, the drop off in corporate work that followed the dot-com bust in 2001 left the firm financially overstretched.  Its over draught grew to £30 million, profits fell and a huge partner defection followed, with 42 partners jumping ship in 2002-2003 alone.  In 2005, the firm instituted a partner lock-in.  By 2006, profits had risen again, and the firm seemed to be on a surer footing.  In March 2009, after a High Court ruling in the firm's favor, Hammonds settled litigation with seven of eight former partners who disputed their obligation to repay £1.7 million in overdrawn profits.  But at the end of that month, four more partners, including the head of the London pensions practice, left the firm.

In addition, the firm is now embroiled in a dispute relating to the collapse of its spin-off volume conveying business, Hammonds Direct.  Hammonds Direct, which occupied a building leased by Hammonds, went into administration in January 2009.  The firm and its spin-off now contest liability over the lease.  The complication is that 20 of Hammonds Direct's 41 shareholders are also partners at Hammonds, so that if the firm takes legal action against Hammonds Direct, 20 of the firm's partners would, in effect, be suing themselves.

Keeping up corporate

Hammonds' key strength in corporate matters saw it carry out a number of deals in the last year.  In December 2008, a Manchester team acted for ECI Partners on its £33.3 million public-to-private takeover of IT company Ascribe.  Also in December, the firm advised vocational training business Melorio on the reverse takeover of Zenos for £33 million.  Consumer electronics brand Alba instructed Hammonds on the £15.25 million sale of its Alba and Bush trade marks to Argos Limited at the end of 2008, and also received advice on a capital reorganization.  

In March 2009, Hammonds counseled new client Secure Trust Bank on the £16.7 million acquisition of a loan portfolio from Liverpool Victoria Banking Services Limited, and advised longstanding client Torotrak plc on a £8.4 million license agreement with the US-based automotive transmissions giant, Allison Transmissions, Inc.  In June 2009, a Hammonds team helped secure clearance for a mega-merger between Lucite International and Mitsubishi Rayon Corporation.  Hammonds advised the shareholders of Lucite on the $1.6 billion agreement, which required merger control clearance in seven jurisdictions, including Germany, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, China, Korea and Taiwan.

Resolving insolvencies

Having made a name for itself in insolvency work in the 1990s, Hammonds recently acted for PricewaterhouseCoopers on the acquisition of Adams Childrenswear by former owner John Shannon, after the retailer went into administration in December 2008.  In June 2009, the firm advised members of Chesapeake Corporation's group of companies on a $485 million financial restructuring deal.  Hammonds also advised Lloyds Development Capital on its £32.5 million buyout of Quantum Specials, a UK-based supplier of tailor-made medicines to the pharmaceutical industry.  A number of places on bank panels, Hammonds sits on panels for RBS, Lloyds TSB and National Australia Bank, also position the firm well to get first dibs on insolvency work.

On the property side, Hammonds advised Spanish supermarket major Eroski in setting up a joint venture with Topland, a UK property investor, in November 2008.  The agreement involved 12 hypermarkets and provides for Topland to take on part of Eroski's portfolio of stores in a sale-and-leaseback transaction.  Worth approximately '¬361 million, the deal was the largest-ever hypermarket sale and leaseback to take place in Spain.

Layoffs are a one-off

At the end of January 2009, the firm concluded a redundancy program in its UK offices with the layoff of 24 lawyers and 53 support staff, the majority in the corporate and real estate departments.  At the same time, managing partner Peter Crossley told The Lawyer that the layoffs were a "one-off", assuring that there would be no further redundancies.  Among other cost-cutting measures, the firm announced that it would cull 20 partners from its UK ranks, require all corporate associates to take a two-month sabbatical, and offer its September 2009 intake of trainees the option to defer their training contract for 12 months and undertake a client secondment for a three-month period based on an enhanced maintenance payment.

Not all the staff movements have been out-bound.  In March 2009, the firm brought in a senior associate from Pinsent Masons to join the London pensions practice and recruited another lawyer for its planning team in Birmingham.  In addition, three experts in international trade, shipping and commodities have joined the firm's London, Leeds and Hong Kong offices since late 2008.

Squire, Sanders & Dempsey (UK) LLP

7 Devonshire Square
Cutlers Gardens
London EC2M 4YH
Phone: +44 (0)87 0839 0000


  • Employer Type: Private
  • Managing partner: Peter Crossley
  • Total No. Attorneys 2009: 334

Major Office Locations

  • Brussels, Belgium
  • Beijing, China
  • Moscow, Russia
  • St. Petersburg, Russia
  • Madrid, Spain
  • London, United Kingdom
  • Leeds, United Kingdom
  • Birmingham, United Kingdom
  • Manchester, United Kingdom
  • Paris, France
  • Munich, Germany
  • Berlin, Germany
  • Hong Kong, Hong Kong
  • Milan, Italy
  • Rome, Italy
  • Turin, Italy
  • Aosta, Italy
  • Bologna, Italy
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