Lying in wait for the ‘bust’ boom

The economy is, at last, slowing down. The implications of the currency crisis in Asia are beginning to be felt and the Bank of England has lowered interest rates in response to deteriorating markets. The media is rife with speculation about the inevitability of recession, and companies and firms providing services to the insolvency sector are gearing up in preparation.

The legal profession is no exception. Having learned from the last downturn, many insolvency lawyers have been building their departments in anticipation of the increase in restructuring and insolvency work. Meanwhile, the market remains competitive with firms fiercely protective of their own client bases.

Here, The Legal 500 analyses leading insolvency firms across the country.

What sets these legal practices apart is their ability to provide specialist knowledge and skills – often not just in the UK – together with a detailed understanding of the market in which they operate. The firms listed in the table do not cover all practices which advise in this area, but they do represent independent recommendations based on extensive research.

The leading London firm for insolvency work is Allen & Overy. Partner Gordon Stewart, past president of the Society of Insolvency Practitioners, has a reputation as one of the leading lights in this field; he is supported by a strong team of ten partners and 12 assistants.

The firm remains active on the receivership of Leyland DAF Finance as well as acting for the liquidators in the high-profile Facia Group liquidation.

Providing strong competition for Allen & Overy are Lovell White Durrant and Wilde Sapte.

Lovell White Durrant faces a double blow this year as head of insolvency, partner Peter Horrocks, and fellow partner Tim Olsen are retiring. Nonetheless, the firm’s remaining 13 partners and 17 assistants provide a range of expertise, depth and international strength that challenges Allen & Overy’s pole position. Clients include Deloitte & Touche, the administrative receivers of Yorkshire Food Group, which had a bank debt of over #74m.

A firm close to Lovell White Durrant, although weaker on the international side, is Wilde Sapte. Much in the public eye as a result of the failed merger with Arthur Andersen, the firm retains a highly regarded insolvency team which would doubtless have been very attractive to the accountants had the merger succeeded.

Partner Mark Andrews has an excellent reputation and heads a team of 15 partners and 27 assistants. High-profile work has included the administrations of the Facia Footware Group, Leyland DAF, Resort Hotels and Dunn & Co.

Clifford Chance lost three leading insolvency partners which affected the firm’s position in the insolvency market. Sandy Shandro joined Freshfields, Andrew Wilkinson moved to Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft and former head of department Ashley Booker left in March. That said, the firm maintains a steady flow of quality work including acting as liquidator to the Prestige Group, as well as advising on the restructuring of Wace, Costain and Jacques Vert.

External market forces

Opinions differ on the impact of US firms on the UK market. Insolvency is one area, however, where two US firms are visible and active. Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft recruited partners Andrew Wilkinson from Clifford Chance and James Roome from Simmons & Simmons and aims to compete for the same work as UK firms. Weil, Gotshal & Manges is also making an impact.

The insolvency market in Yorkshire and the North-West of England is dominated by Dibb Lupton Alsop.

In Manchester, the large department is headed by well-regarded partner Peter Manning and the client list includes all the leading accountancy firms plus Barclays, the Co-operative Bank, NatWest and Royal Bank of Scotland.

The firm has been acting for Pannell Kerr Forster on the receivership of Genesis Fast Foods, with an asset value of approximately #5m.

In Leeds, Mark Jackson and Peter Cranston are acknowledged leaders in insolvency work. The firm is unique in being retained by the Directors Disqualification Unit of the Department of Trade and Industry for Yorkshire and Humberside. In 1997, the firm acted for BDO Stoy Hayward in the #44m receivership of a large commercial property portfolio – one of the largest receiverships of that year.

The firm also acted for Grant Thornton in the Craven Fawcett Group administrative receivership, and for Coopers & Lybrand in various matters.

Clients in the South-West have three leading firms to choose from. Bond Pearce, where Victor Tettmar is well respected, has been instructed by all the major accountancy firms, the DTI and financial institutions. Osborne Clarke acted for Lloyds TSB Bank and Andersens over Bournemouth & Boscombe Athletic Football Club Company Ltd. At Burges Salmon, managing partner Guy Stobart heads the insolvency team, which has been instructed by Lloyds TSB Group, UCB Bank, Cheltenham & Gloucester building society and the major accountants.

Eversheds and Wragge & Co lead the competition in Birmingham. Eversheds acts for the insolvency partners at KPMG, Price Waterhouse, Coopers, Ernst & Young, as well as all the major banks. Last year saw the firm act for PW on the Jacques Marisa receivership. Wragge & Co’s 14 fee-earner team continues to act for Andersens, Coopers, Deloittes, PW, KPMG, DTI and the Official Receiver.

The 1998 edition of The Legal 500: the Clients’ Guide to UK law firms is published by Legalease, price #95. Theresa Sandon is the London editor of The Legal 500

 Market leaders              Recommended
 Allen & Overy               Clifford Chance
 Lovell White Durrant        Denton Hall
 Wilde Sapte                 Linklaters
 Cameron McKenna             Nabarro Nathanson
                             Norton Rose
                             Simmons & Simmons
                             Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft
                             Dibb Lupton Alsop
                             Hammond Suddards
                             Herbert Smith
                             Slaughter and May
                             Ashurst Morris Crisp
                             Baker & McKenzie
                             Berwin Leighton
                             D J Freeman
                             Lawrence Graham
                             Richards Butler
                             Rowe & Maw
                             Stephenson Harwood
                             Theodore Goddard
                             Travers Smith Braithwaite
                             Weil, Gotshal & Manges
 Dibb Lupton Alsop           Davies Arnold Cooper
 Addleshaw Booth & Co        Eversheds
 Slater Heelis               Hammond Suddards
 Davies Wallis Foyster
 Halliwell Landua
 Dibb Lupton Alsop, Leeds    Walker Morris, Leeds
                             Addleshaw Booth & Co, Leeds
                             Hammond Suddards, Leeds
                             Pinsent Curtis, Leeds
                             Carrick Read Insolvency, Leeds
                             Hartley Linfoot & Whitlam, Sheffield
                             Lupton Fawcett, Harrogate
                             Brooke North, Leeds
                             Eversheds, Leeds
                             Irwin Mitchell, Sheffield
 Bond Pearce, Plymouth       Anstey Sargent & Probert, Exeter
 Burges Salmon, Bristol      Bevan Ashford, Bristol
 Osborne Clarke, Bristol     Cameron McKenna, Bristol
                             Clarke Willmott & Clarke, Taunton
                             Lawrence Tucketts, Bristol
                             Laytons, Bristol
                             Lester Aldridge, Bournemouth
                             Stephens & Scown, Exeter, St Austell, Truro
                             Trumps, Bristol
                             Veale Wasbrough, Bristol
                             Wansbroughs Willey Hargrave, Bristol
 Eversheds, Birmingham       Martineau Johnson, Birmingham
 Wragge & Co, Birmingham     Pinsent Curtis, Birmingham
                             Dibb Lupton Alsop, Birmingham
                             Gateley Wareing, Birmingham
                             Edge & Ellison, Birmingham
                             Herbert Wilkes, Birmingham
                             Irwin Mitchell, Birmingham
                             Knight & Sons, Newcastle under Lyme
                             Brindley Twist Tafft & James, Coventry
                             Lee Crowder, Birmingham
                             Whatley Weston & Fox, Worcester

Firms are listed in groups in order of merit, and alphabetically within groups

Related reading

aidan-brennan kpmg