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Gateley recently became the first full service commercial law firm to float in the UK. James Hunt, a solicitor and founder of Everyman Legal, considers the pros and cons of law firms listing on the stock exchange and has a look at trends in this area.
I started my career working in the City of London for Clifford-Turner, which became Clifford Chance. We helped owner-managed companies go public. Some of those companies were ‘people businesses’—I recall a fast growth recruitment company and a niche public relations company. The City has always been sceptical of initial public offerings (IPOs) of companies whose ‘key assets go up and down in the lifts in the morning and evening’ as a City wag once quipped.
In the 1980s, Saatchi & Saatchi floated and was followed by a number of other advertising agencies. None did well but with one very notable exception. The ex-finance director of Saatchi, Martin Sorrell, took a small listed shell, Wire and Plastic Products plc (worth £3m in 1985), and over 30 years used it to create the world-leading advertising and marketing giant WPP, capitalised at £15bn. Sorrell was clearly a very shrewd and perceptive CEO and ‘consolidator’ of the industry in which he worked—not only could he strike good deals to buy creative, people-led business but he knew how to create a team to manage that creative talent while at the same time driving financial performance and winning the confidence of investors. A master tactician.
The acquisitive listed Australian personal injury specialist, Slater & Gordon, has shown how in a volume market (where efficiency is key) a business can grow using its shares as currency. Gateley operates in the very different mid-tier commercial services market but again one that benefits from efficient execution of legal work.
I worked for many years in Birmingham (where I was brought up) and I know most of the Gateley management team, two of whom are former colleagues. As a proud ‘Brummie’ it is great to see a Birmingham firm bold enough to lead the charge into post-Legal Services Act 2007 world.
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