If Clarke Willmott hasn’t achieved the same prominence (yet) as its bigger regional rivals, it is not for a lack of trying. The South West player has been growing by leaps and bounds in recent years, and it is not shy about its desire to push further.
Going to Birmingham
Clarke Willmott has big ambitions and financial results to show for it. The firm has seen double-digit annual turnover growth, and it has doubled in size since 2001. More seems to be in store for the firm that calls itself “penly ambitious”, as management has suggested hopes for national status.
At the helm of Clarke Willmott is Managing Partner David Sedgwick, who has been at the firm for more than two decades. He put on the captain’s hat in 1999, when the firm had $13 million in revenue. Since he took over, the firm’s revenue has more than tripled to $45 million. That turnover puts the firm ahead of regional rivals like Bond Pearce, Bevan Brittan, Morgan Cole and TLT. No wonder he has been elected to three terms, which could make him one of the UK’s longest-serving managing partners.
Although Clarke Willmott traces its South West roots as far back as 1898, in recent years the firm has revealed a desire to shift more of its focus to its Midlands presence. Although the Bristol office remains the firm’s largest, Clarke Willmott considers Birmingham its headquarters and has set 2010 as the target for fulfilling its goal of growing the office into the firm’s biggest.
You say goodbye and I say hello
Clarke Willmott serves a handful of core industry sectors, which in turn drives its practice area coverage. The key focal points of this sector-based organization include real estate, construction, retail, sport and renewable energy. The firm also advises a number of banks on property finance. The firm has been making a major push to boost its private client practice. In early 2007, Clarke Willmott unveiled a trio of significant lateral hires. Among the poaches, the firm took a senior private tax and estate planning partner from TLT, another South West firm. Assigned to the Bristol office, Mary McCartney’s hire was couched as one step in enhancing private capital capabilities across the firm’s four-office network. The firm also brought in a team of private client lawyers from Moore & Blatch. In March 2008, the firm’s expertise in this area was recognized when partner Peter Nellist won the title of “Financial Planner of the Year” at the Money Management Financial Planner of the Year Awards, a trophy he’d also brought home in 2003.
The firm has also made strides in bolstering its real estate practice, where it made a few partner additions in 2007 through lateral plays. Clarke Willmott grabbed commercial property specialist Greg Lovett, for example, from Bevan Brittan, as well as Oliver Smedley from Burges Salmon. The latest additions help recoup losses suffered in 2006 when property practice head David Powell and three other partners took flight for Bristol’s Osborne Clarke. In 2007 the firm lost corporate Partner Paul Hardman and associate Mark Gilder to Morgan Cole when the firm launched its own Bristol office.
In late 2007, however, the firm ousted one of its own. Clarke Willmott expelled a veteran restructuring partner over alleged financial irregularities in his expenses. The move led the Taunton-based lawyer’s clients to come to his aid, defending his reputation and reconsidering their relationship with the firm, according to the legal press.
In the King’s corner
In the sectors in which it excels, Clarke Willmott has garnered some top-name clients, including a number of AIM-listed companies. Retail sector instructions come from the likes of Burger King and Oddbins. For regular client Somerfield, for example, the firm has been involved in a number of property disputes, including arbitration over a warehouse in West London where the owner was seeking a rent increase. The firm has also advised on a number of high-profile developments in the South, the South West and the Midlands. For example, the firm helped developers turn a former Bristol car dealership into a 160,000-square-foot mixed office, retail and leisure development. In Milton Keynes, Clarke Willmott acted for City law firm Denton Wilde Sapte in negotiating a pre-let agreement for the new office development to be known as Pinnacle MK. The 200,000-square-foot site will house accounting giant Deloitte as well as the DWS team.
Clarke Willmott’s niche in sport practice brings mandates from sporting governing bodies, clubs and major sporting venues. The firm recently advised Swindon Town Football Club as it was taken over by Portuguese company Best Holdings, one of a series of foreign takeovers of UK clubs in recent years. With renewable energy making up an important sector, the firm has helped clients finance and build major wind farms, implement a UK waste incineration directive and buy up a Scottish peat bog for commercial extraction. And in the education sector, Clarke Willmott lawyers are advising a sixth form college during a $60 million redevelopment that includes construction of a new campus.
Clarke Willmott also has landed a number of important panel appointments. The firm is among the law firms advising easyJet, now that the budget airline has decided to form an informal panel rather than appoint law firms on an ad hoc basis. The firm is also on the prestigious rural panel of the Crown Estate, which appointed Clarke Willmott in 2007 for a five-year term. The firm handles the low-value work for part of the Crown Estate’s $673 million property portfolio of 120,000 hectares of agricultural land and forest.
An Equitable resolution
On the litigation front, the firm recently helped resolve a long-running mis-selling dispute against Equitable Life. Clarke Willmott represented the claimants, including more than 400 elderly individuals, who said that Equitable had sold them life insurance annuities without explaining the risks involved. In January 2008, before the case could be heard by the High Court, the firm obtained a settlement for its clients.
138 Edmund Street
Birmingham B3 2ES
Phone: +44 (0)121 234 9400
Employer Type: Private
Managing Partner: David Sedgwick
Total No. Attorneys 2009: 203
London, United Kingdom
Birmingham, United Kingdom
Bristol, United Kingdom
Southampton, United Kingdom
Taunton, United Kingdom