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30 September, 2020 - 15:40 By Tony Quested

Glorious results for Cambridge cluster law firms in new Legal 500 guide

Cambridge Cluster and East Anglian law firms cover themselves in glory in the new edition of the profession’s ‘bible’ – The Legal 500 clients guide –published online today by Legalease.

Particularly strong are local firms’ performances in the areas of Corporate Law, Real Estate, technology and the life sciences.

The Legal 500 prides itself on being even-handed and the all-round excellence of this region’s practices across all legal disciplines bears that out. 

More importantly for this region’s companies across a range of industries desperate for the best legal advice in these trying times the guide underlines that top lawyers and carefully sculpted teams can offer best-in-class advice whether clients trade nationally or globally. This quality is reflected in The Legal 500’s recommendations for leading individuals, Hall of Fame supernovas, next generation lawyers and rising stars – more of which in follow-up features.

Business Weekly will be highlighting different sectors over the coming week, leading to a special feature in print and online. Today we focus on practices which star in the fields of corporate law and Technology Media & Telecoms.
The Legal 500 analyses this region’s strength in Corporate & Commercial Law without fear or favour and in compiling its general reviews, names firms alphabetically within tiers.

Tier 1 rated for Corporate & Commercial Law work in Cambridge are Birketts, Goodwin, Mills & Reeve and Taylor Vinters.

The Legal 500 reports: “Birketts LLP has a three-partner team in Cambridge that works as part of a cross-office practice across 50 lawyers East Anglia and in Essex. 

“The firm has specialist skills in data protection, public sector procurement, franchising, intellectual property, share options and tax, as well as an extensive roster of corporate and M & A transactions. 

“As well as local and national work, the practice led by James Allen handles an increasing volume of cross-border advisory and transactional matters. Quentin Golder, who focuses on early-stage funding and venture capital matters, M & A partner Adrian Seagers and rising star associate Nick Burt are recommended.

Nick Burt of Birketts LLP

“Goodwin hired a team of corporate and venture capital lawyers from Taylor Wessing LLP in early 2020 to launch its Cambridge office. The office is a key hub for the firm's UK technology and life sciences practice, which acts for both corporates and investors. 

“It already has a substantial client base in the local area, among which are innovative life sciences and most disruptive technology companies. Among the key hires are partners Adrian Rainey, David Mardle and Malcolm Bates, counsel Elizabeth Rhodes and associate Adam Thatcher. 

“Clients describe the practice as 'one of the "go-to" teams in Cambridge for spin-outs and start-ups – responsive, pragmatic and commercial'.

“Mills & Reeve LLP has a leading regional and national M & A practice and many of its transactions also have an international element. Its recent work includes several IPOs, high-value matters for private equity investors, venture capital transactions and key deals in the technology, education and healthcare sectors. 

“M & A and cross-border transaction specialist Tom Pickthorn and head of the technology and life sciences group Kevin Calder are the lead partners in Cambridge. 

“Firm managing partner Claire Clarke has particular expertise in education work and formation of investment funds. Anthony McGurk is recommended for private equity, food and agribusiness, and life sciences matters. Up-and-coming partner Jonathan Greenwood is recommended for education M & A and mid-market corporate work.

Claire Clarke, Mills & Reeve

“Taylor Vinters has a 'strategic and proactive approach to its clients rather than the transactional approach many firms employ', according to one client. 

“The firm acts for high potential IP-rich emerging companies, venture capital funds and serial acquirers on inbound and outbound national and international transactions. Innovation economy and venture capital partner Charles Fletcher leads a six-partner practice that works seamlessly between the Cambridge and London offices.

“Head of corporate and insolvency Adam Bradley focuses on M & A, early-stage investments and joint ventures. Sian Scanlon has a strong focus on transactions in the technology and life sciences sectors. 'Methodical and logical' senior associate Nick Palmer focuses on private company and partnership transactions. Senior associate Sarah Ilic joined from Tees Law.”

The guide says of Tier 2 ranked BDB Pitmans: 'All team members are technically knowledgeable, proactive and personable,' according to one client of BDB Pitmans.

“James Stephen and Duncan Walker are the lead partners and they handle substantial transactions, frequently involving complex and novel issues, for a diverse portfolio of clients in East Anglia and further afield. 

“Their sector experience includes the full spectrum of technology companies in East Anglia, particularly around Cambridge, with many clients based in the city's science and technology parks and innovation centres. They range from entrepreneurs and SMEs to larger corporates with in-house legal teams.

Also in Tier 2 are Hewitsons and Penningtons Manches Cooper. The guide reports: “Clients praise the 'excellent client service, responsiveness, appreciation for business considerations and cost-effectiveness', of the team at Hewitsons. 

'The team finds an excellent balance between paying good attention to detail while keeping a sensible commercial view of any points at issue', remarks another. 

James Lawrence, Hewitsons

“Corporate partner James Lawrence, technology specialist Andrew Priest* and business services head Emma Shipp lead the five-partner practice, which handles a broad range of corporate work for the larger corporations and businesses including acquisitions, disposals, reorganisations and financing. 

“It has particular expertise in the technology, life sciences, property development and agribusiness sectors. Up-and-coming partner Laurence Evans is also recommended.

“The corporate practice at Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP is led from Guildford and London but the Cambridge office plays a key role in the firm's national offering. Helen Drayton handles all aspects of company law, including mergers and acquisitions, and has a particular focus on MBOs and acquisitions for owner-managed businesses.”

Tier 3 firms are Ashtons Legal, Dixon Phillips, Greenwoods and Howes Percival. 

The Legal 500 says: “The four-partner corporate practice at Ashtons Legal is led from Ipswich by Geoff Hazlewood and although none of the partners are in Cambridge full-time, the office is key to the firm's service offering. 

“The firm is active in the local marketplace in its key sectors and it handles substantial Cambridge-based transactions involving veterinary practices, franchising, technology, care homes and regional banks.

“Dixon Phillips is a small firm focused purely on corporate, commercial and property law. For the last 11 years it has grown its SME client base in the region, focusing on businesses with turnover of up to £25 million, through its commitment to strong client relationships. 

“The practice led by Oliver Phillips joins the ranking this year and is praised for its 'extremely personalised service with easy contact to partners' and its 'willingness to be agile, responsive and proportionate to the level of risks'. 'It would be great if every firm of solicitors was as responsive and caring,' remarks one client.

“At Greenwoods GRM, practice head David Woods is based mainly in Peterborough but works across both of the firm's Cambridgeshire offices. He has more than 20 years' experience in the region and brings to bear the firm's extensive expertise in the technology, business services and manufacturing sectors. 

“Partner Alastair Gunn and associate Claire Banks, who are also based in Peterborough, also handle a significant flow of work through the Cambridge office. Gunn has notable expertise in share, trade and asset disposals, MBOs, MBIs and acquisitions.

“Howes Percival LLP continues to build the profile of its Cambridge office, with corporate and commercial work a growing feature of its work. Practice head Oliver Pritchard, who works between the Norwich and Cambridge offices and joined in 2020 from Browne Jacobson LLP, brought with him a long track record in the health sector. 

“The firm also hired director Brigitta Naunton in Cambridge from Thomson Webb & Corfield LLP to handle private company M & A, equity investments, corporate reorganisations, joint venture and shareholder arrangements. Nathan Horton, who previously led the practice, left the firm to pursue a career outside the law.

Oliver Pritchard, Howes Percival LLP

Elsewhere in East Anglia, Birketts and Greenwoods are bracketed in Tier 1 while Ashtons Legal and Buckles Solicitors in Peterborough srae a Tier 2 ranking.

The guide reports:  “Birketts has a five-partner corporate group in Ipswich that is a key hub for the firm's cross-office corporate finance, transactional and commercial work. Acting for both local and national businesses, the firm handles a growing volume of cross-border matters, alongside major domestic M & A transactions. 

“James Austin, Mark Henry and Mark Gipson are the lead partners for corporate finance, commercial advice and transactional matters. Alexandra Nelson, who has experience in cross-border M & A transactions, and Andrew Tubb are other partners to note. Associate Emma Bysouth is one to watch. 

“Greenwoods GRM is a prominent regional firm with its headquarters in Peterborough, where the core of its corporate and commercial practice is based. 

“It acts for businesses of all size from start-ups to listed companies, among which are local, regional, national and international enterprises. 

“The team works in close co-operation with other key practices such as property, employment, pensions and regulatory, and with the firms' other offices in Cambridge and London. Practice head David Woods, key partner Alastair Gunn and associate Claire Banks are the names to note.

“Ashtons Legal focuses on core sectors such as technology, veterinary practices and care homes. It also has the region's leading franchising practice. 

“It has a strong client base among the region's SMEs, which call on it for advice on commercial matters and corporate transactions. Geoff Hazlewood leads the Ipswich practice. 

“He and Paul Whittingham, who handles corporate matters for clients in the veterinary sector, are 'standout partners with excellent reputations across the region'.

Paul Whittingham, Ashtons Legal

“Buckles Solicitors LLP in Peterborough has a 'professional, knowledgable and very responsive team' that handles complex regional and cross-border corporate matters. 

“The firm has an established reputation for assisting family-owned generational companies, working closely with the wealth management practice team on corporate restructurings. 

“Through its affiliate offices in Paris and Milan, the firm also handles deals with international elements. Practice head Nigel Moore and associate Nadine Duncan are the key contacts.”

Birketts and Mills & Reeve share top spot for Corporate & Commercial work in Norwich with Ashtons Legal and Howes Percival nudging into Tier 2 rankings.

The Legal 500 reports: “Birketts LLP has an outstanding reputation for corporate and transactional work, particularly in the Norwich market, though it also handles national and, increasingly, cross-border matters. 

“The firm has specialists in public company work, mergers and acquisitions, corporate reorganisations, restructuring and employee ownership trusts. Adrian Possener, Greg Allan and Ed Savory are the three partners in the practice. Possener is known for public company work, IPOs and bond issues; Allan handles complex reorganisations and M & A; and Savory frequently acts for SMEs in East Anglia and further afield. 'The team at Birketts is responsive, commercial and knowledgeable,' remarks one client.

“Mills & Reeve LLP has a strong regional and national presence for corporate and M & A work, and many of its transactions have an international element.
“Among its clients are private equity and venture capital investors, SMEs and large listed companies. In the Norwich office, Craig Hodgson is head of corporate and Greg Gibson leads on commercial matters. 

“Head of the Norwich office James Hunter has more than 25 years' transactional experience, notably for owners and acquirers of mid-market businesses. 

“Natalie Wade is recommended for work in the independent health sector acting for private equity buyers and large consolidators of dental practices and health providers. Senior associate Christina O’Brien is also recommended.”

Natalie Wade, Mills & Reeve

The guide says of Ashtons Legal: “Geoff Hazlewood in Ipswich leads the corporate and commercial practice at Ashtons Legal, which has strong practitioners in Norwich. It has particular expertise in work for veterinary practices, technology companies, care homes and regional banks. 

“James Tarling advises a broad range of local businesses on corporate transactions, as well as assisting high-growth technology companies. John Chambers and Damian Humphrey are nationally recognised for their niche franchising expertise. 

“Senior associate Mark Watson is also recommended. Clients praise the firm's 'quick and intelligent advice', noting that it has 'a good blend of skills that complement each other in getting the job done'.

“Howes Percival LLP has a new lead partner in Oliver Pritchard, who is practice head for both the Norwich and Cambridge offices. He joined from Browne Jacobson LLP in early 2020 and has specialist expertise in the healthcare sector, in which he acts for a national client base. 

“The firm is also heavily involved in transactions in the leisure and tourism sector, in which it has recently completed high-profile deals for clients such as Craft Leisure Limited. The firm principally acts for owner-managed businesses, high-net-worth family estates and agriculture businesses.

For more visit

*Andrew Priest joined Birketts LLP from Hewitsons on June 01, 2020.

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