The former legal director of Stobart Barristers, Trevor Howarth, has revealed that he is in acquisition talks with some ‘very well-known firms’, following the announcement that he has snapped up a high-profile criminal defence practice which had been scheduled to close.
Howarth (pictured) left Stobart in April 2014 to concentrate on One Legal, which he jointly founded in 2013 with employment barrister Tim Edge.
Last week the Manchester firm announced that it had completed a deal to acquire Kaim Todner Solicitors, which represented ‘Pentagon hacker’ Gary McKinnon.
Howarth told the Gazette that One Legal was currently talking to a ‘mix’ of firms, including some that were ‘very well-known’.
Howarth said One Legal had also received ‘a number of calls from various firms which we will consider in due course’.
One Legal was granted an alternative business structure licence in 2013.
Howarth said the company was set up ‘on the basis to be involved in the criminal legal aid market and make acquisitions’.
A ‘substantial amount’ of capital investment has enabled One Legal to acquire Kaim Todner, its first law firm purchase, and ‘enter the marketplace to make further acquisitions’.
Kaim Todner will operate under the name Kaim Todner as part of One Legal.
Howarth said there are ‘some lawyers out there who want to be lawyers and don’t want to run a practice. There are those firms who will look to retain their name as part of One Legal or be absorbed into the group.
‘Our business model has always been, certainly in two years, you will be able to ask for a One Legal lawyer in Bournemouth or Carlisle’.
Explaining One Legal’s acquisition criteria, Howarth said: ‘The key thing for me is the personnel within the business.’
With Kaim Todner, he said, ‘here you have an individual [Karen Todner] who is a formidable lawyer. Also the depth and strength of the staff within that business. I was surprised that the vast majority of staff had over 15 years of service each. They were very loyal and dedicated staff who were very competent in what they do.’
As part of the deal, Kaim Todner will have the use of a centralised back-office function. This is currently run by an 18-strong team at a ‘hub’ based in Chorley. Howarth said he intended to grow the hub ‘as additional firms contract into us’.
Karen Todner, who becomes national head of crime, extradition and regulatory for One Legal, told the Gazette that there would be no redundancies. Howarth confirmed that an additional office has been opened in central London for private clients trading under Kaim Todner.
Howarth said: ‘We are able to go into firms without necessarily making redundancies. [Kaim Todner] was a business looking to move towards orderly closure two weeks ago. Today we’re announcing the recruitment drive to increase the number of staff.’
When asked if any additional hubs would be set up, Howarth said One Legal was looking to have a ‘national presence with firms across the country. It was never the plan but it’s looking likely that it will become necessary. It depends on the dimensions of the business and how that develops.
‘We need to see where those acquisitions are coming from. But the plan is for the central hub, at the moment, to remain in Chorley’.
Howarth estimates that, in some cases, the back-office support could save firms 50% of their fixed overheads, such as property costs.
He said: ‘When staff are mobile, you do not need all those offices because staff are not always office-based. To bring people into the office inputs further costs on the business which is not necessary.
‘I do not want to see fee-earners in the office. I want to see them at the police station or in court. If a fee-earner is in the office, they’re not out there fee-earning. Often those days the fee-earner is filling time doing administrative functions for which they are not being paid.’
In October, Howarth and Edge were granted an alternative business structure licence for Two Legal Services Limited, based in Lancashire.
Howarth said details about this venture would be revealed within the next two months. But he said the company had ‘nothing to do with’ the criminal legal aid market and was a 'completely separate business proposal altogether’.