At the forefront of driving the region’s economic recovery

March 7, 2022

As Newcastle-based law firm Womble Bond Dickinson’s corporate team celebrates its position at the top of Experian’s North East legal adviser rankings by deal value in its 2021 mergers and acquisitions report, partner and head of corporate Ben Butler reflects on last year and the challenges and opportunities for the corporate team in its Tyneside office.

March marks the two-year anniversary of our life with COVID-19 and, looking back, the legal landscape has changed dramatically, both in how we work together as a business internally and how we work with our clients. As a firm, we have had to adapt while also helping our clients to adapt.

We have been supporting our clients across the region throughout the pandemic, helping businesses in the North East and beyond realise their potential through the challenging times faced in the past two years.

For the North East as a region, our economy has been fortunate to recover more quickly than other parts of the UK. By the end of 2021, the region’s economy had recovered to 98.5 per cent of its 2019 size – the second-fastest recovery, just behind Yorkshire and the Humber.

The North East’s mergers and acquisitions market followed the same trajectory, being among the UK’s quickest to recover from the effects of COVID-19.

Our North East corporate team is proud to have contributed to this recovery, ranking as the region’s number one legal adviser in terms of deal value for 2021 according to Experian’s report.

Renowned for the quality and complexity of our transactions, longstanding client list and international reach, we set ourselves apart from other corporate teams in the region with our track record of delivering private equity and public company transactions.

We have hopefully come through the worst of COVID-19 and the challenges it has brought to businesses, particularly when it comes to completing transactions, but we are proud to have been able to adapt and continue to deliver for our clients in the region and contribute to its economic recovery.

The transactions we are seeing demonstrate the strength and resilience of the North East business community to continue to be courageous and progressive in the face of adversity, and also the increased appetite of investors, locally and internationally, to back our region’s leading businesses.

The recent report from Experian allows us to reflect on many of the deals in which we supported thriving local businesses over the past year, including John Parker and Christiaan Ashworth, on the sale of END Clothing; pharmaceutical and biotechnology company Arcinova, on the sale of the business to Quotient Sciences; and the sale of Northumberland Cottages to PE-backed Sykes Holiday Cottages.

Our Newcastle-based team continued to serve some of the most prestigious clients in the region, advising major companies such as Grainger, innovative companies including challenger bank Atom and many of the region’s best known privately-owned businesses, such as British Engines and Tharsus.

Other notable transactions we are delighted to have helped include advising Nestware (sister company to Carpetright) on its acquisition of Carpet & Flooring (Trading) Limited; the recent merger of communication agencies Different and Narrative Integrated Communications to form Different Narrative; and the buyout of Nigel Wright, bringing it back into 100 per cent ownership of its management team.

It is fantastic to see this activity cutting across various sectors in our deals community, supporting a range of transactions, from early-stage seed-capital financing and start-up support, delivered through our WBD Accelerate programme, to multi-million-pound private equity investments.

As well as the most recent accolade in Experian’s mergers and acquisitions report, our Newcastle-based corporate team was shortlisted for a variety of awards at this year’s Insider North East Dealmakers Awards, including corporate law firm of the year, having advised on more than 50 transactions with a combined value of circa £1.5 billion; and deal of the year, for transactions including the sale of award-winning independent retailer Psyche to retail giant Frasers Group. It’s fantastic to see our efforts in supporting the North East business community have not gone unnoticed.

Our robust and diverse track record is certainly what sets us apart from other law firms, but I am proud to be able to say it is the strength of our team which allows us to continue supporting local businesses to thrive. We have immense pride in our deep North East roots, with Newcastle remaining our largest office. It is home to more than 450 partners and colleagues, who are committed to playing their part in the future prosperity of the region.

With our strong regional links and transatlantic reach, we are looking forward to continuing to support businesses of all sizes as we emerge from the pandemic, utilising our extensive resources and our membership with Lex Mundi (the world’s leading network of independent law firms) and combining it with first-class sector expertise.

Our team is ready to continue to help drive the economic recovery of the region and enable our clients to deliver on their regional, national and international growth ambitions.