Insolvencies in professional partnerships

Insolvencies in professional partnerships

With the number of professional services insolvencies on the rise Mark Sands, partner at Baker Tilly, looks at some of the factors affecting insolvencies, key issues for partnership insolvencies and some of the most common insolvency procedures.

There have been a number of professional services insolvencies recently, particularly solicitors and accountancy firms—why do you think this is?

The legal profession has seen changes which have simply become too much for an increasing number of firms—conveyancing volumes have halved, and have only recently shown signs of recovery. Private clients faced with tightened belts look at low cost answers to problems such as will writing, divorce and other family related issues, demanding low fixed fees or sidestepping the profession and using the internet and blogs as sources of self-help. Legally aided work has been significantly cut in the overall budget, and corporate and commercial clients have reduced spending both as a result of reduced activity and seeking lower or fixed fees for routine employment, property and commercial work.

These issues have driven many firms to consolidate and streamline their businesses while new entrants have sought to commoditise an increasing number of products at low and/or fixed costs. Faced with the combination of the above and competition driving down margins, many practices can simply no longer compete.

Partnerships are ‘unique’ in that partners should only take drawings from profits whereas corporate entities pay senior staff, deducting those costs to arrive at a figure for profits. However, partners may become used to a level of drawings and continue to draw funds from the partnership at their traditional rate for some time after profits have fallen below the combined level of partners’ drawings—so even when making a notional profit, a partnership can find itself with a material outflow of cash which has to be funded by increased debt levels. The situation may be worsened by the build-up of work in progress in the lead up to insolvency, meaning that cash generation is even lower than calculated profit.


What common problems do professional partnerships face that have led to an increase in insolvencies in this sector in recent years?

In the past year many businesses, including professional practices, expected to see an upturn in their markets which has not yet happened. Clients of professional practices—whether financially squeezed private clients or businesses facing challenges of their own—are not turning the taps back on. Practices which did not radically adjust at the start of the downturn are faced with another year of low or non-existent profits—and if experiencing thi

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