Legal dealmakers

July 19, 2019

Championed as the ‘North East’s busiest dealmaker’ in the annual Experian MarketIQ league tables, Ward Hadaway’s Newcastle-based corporate team is enjoying rich success. Robert Thompson, partner and head of corporate, tells Steven Hugill why the division’s evolution leaves it primed for further growth

Newcastle’s Quayside has changed over the decades, its black and white maritime past today replaced by a contemporary blend of architectural modernity. Within the myriad of its waterside postcodes sits one business enjoying its own evolution.

Ward Hadaway, established in 1988, is a full service, UK Top 100 law firm trusted by national and international clients.

Headquartered in Sandgate House – one of the first office buildings in the regeneration of Newcastle’s East Quayside – and the neighbouring Keel Row House, it is a business with momentum.

Intrinsic to its progress is the firm’s corporate division, an expanding 30-plus team that includes 12 specialist partners and works on the deals market within the SME sector.

It provides advice on mergers and acquisitions (M&A), flotations, public company work, raising venture capital and private equity and refinancing and banking work.

It is, says the corporate team’s head Robert Thompson, a distinctive offering that gives Ward Hadaway an advantage in the marketplace, where its M&A focus includes sectors such as scrap and waste, healthcare and recruitment.

“It is a big regional team and the unique bit is for a team of that size to focus on the SME market.

“Other legal firms like us, which have teams as large as us, don’t focus on SME work, they chase the large corporate marketplace,” adds Robert, who took over as head of corporate last year and heads the team across all three offices in Newcastle, Leeds and Manchester.

“While we of course support many of the firm’s large corporate clients, the culture of the SME market suits our entrepreneurial approach.

“Within the team, there are individual partners – usually a minimum of two – that are charged with looking after each sector and going out and finding clients both locally and nationally.

“That is quite unique for a law firm, but it is a sensible business approach that does not rely on regional constraints.”

As with all businesses, the cloak of Brexit uncertainty has not failed to shroud the ambitions of Ward Hadaway’s clients.

However, Robert, an M&A lawyer with more than 30 years’ experience, says the marketplace remains strong, with the corporate team enjoying unprecedented levels of work.

“Generally, there was a little bit of slowdown with Brexit,” he says, “but we have bucked the trend in terms of deal-making. We’ve never had a workbook like we have now. We had a number of deals on hold as a result of Brexit uncertainty, but many of these are now moving forward as industry leaders decide to maintain their business’s momentum. That is good news for us and our clients.”

This progress hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Ward Hadaway was recognised as the North East’s busiest corporate dealmaker in the annual Experian MarketIQ league tables, which tracks M&A deals valued over £500,000 at regional and national level.

Its corporate team advised on 56 deals in the North East in 2018, with a combined deal value of £177 million – based on values the firm are able to publicise – meaning it was ranked 14th nationally, putting it alongside major, global law firms.

Furthermore, Experian named the corporate team as the busiest in the North East for the first quarter of 2019, and second overall nationally.

“The Experian tables are a widely respected fact-based indicator of regional activity and give the team recognition for their hard work,” says Robert, who himself is ranked in Chambers and Legal 500.

“The corporate partners and their teams deserve it for the effort they have put in to grow the business – we are the biggest team and closing the most deals.

“We have great clients who turn to us when it matters most. We respect that, don’t take it for granted and go out of our way to deliver an outstanding legal service.

“We have historically not shouted our success from the rooftops, but given some of the misconceptions that abound in the market place we decided we would submit our factual results and let that speak for itself.

“We are a regional firm that can deliver a high quality of service; we can deal with all M&A needs and can do it at a much more favourable cost than a London firm.

“We routinely pull work out of the capital as clients are tired of paying ridiculous hourly rates, reflecting London overheads, and ending up with technical associates running their most important deals.

“Our lead partner rates are half the hourly rates some London firms charge for their trainees – need I say more?”, continues Robert.

Fundamental to its ability in meeting clients’ needs, says Robert, is the company’s high-calibre staff and its commitment to the next generation of corporate lawyers, who are trained to meet Ward Hadaway’s high professional standards.

The business, says Robert, is also dedicated to ensuring its employees’ wellbeing.

“We have got some very experienced people here and I’m now building on this quality by bringing in some good youngsters and developing them,” he says.

“I would put my juniors against the best of any other firm and be confident they would come out and win.

“I have exacting standards; I’m not a lawyer that accepts the ‘it’ll do’ approach – I never have been.

“We’ve developed a culture where we want people to work hard but be aware that it is important for them to take holidays, rest and take time out,” says Robert, who spends time in the glorious Northumberland hills with his dogs for recreation and relaxation.

“We have a lot of social clubs and our approach is to work hard, work effectively and work well whilst taking advantage of a lifestyle that does not require a lot of the working day to be spent commuting backwards and forwards to work.”

The corporate team’s growth and future successes will be aided, in no small part, by Robert’s position as editor of Sinclair on Warranties and Indemnities on Share and Asset Sales.

He is just about to edit his fifth edition of the triennial book, having been involved in the process for the last 15 years.

“It is the M&A industry legal bible for corporate lawyers,” reveals Robert.

“We have set our training standards with reference to it, and every law firm of any substance will have one in their library or on the practitioner’s desk.”

However, another significant element of Robert’s work is responsible for delivering an equally profound effect on Ward Hadaway’s standing.

He is head of the European M&A practice group and vice-chair of the world M&A practice group at Geneva Group International, the global alliance of independent audit, accounting, law and consulting firms that has 584 members worldwide and a presence in 124 countries.

“We are unique across the North in being members of this large group of law and accountancy firms, and they have a parallel network of deal-making firms too,” says Robert.

“It gives me insight as a regional M&A lawyer that very few others have in terms of understanding dealmaking around the globe. It also gives our clients easy access to outstanding professionals throughout the world.”

Ward Hadaway

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