Birketts has been recommended as a ‘top-tier firm’ in 36 practice areas and in total the firm received 53 recommendations. Additionally, 39 lawyers are listed in the elite 'leading lawyers' list (including members from all four core disciplines - Corporate and Commercial, Property, Dispute Litigation and Private Client) and a total of 148 lawyers are recommended.
Commenting on the results, CEO Jonathan Agar said: "This year’s Legal 500 rightly recognises that Birketts occupies a premier position for its range of capability, level of expertise and depth of experience. We have built upon prior years' successes and I am proud to say that we have recorded our best directory listing to date and are acknowledged as East Anglia’s regional powerhouse.
“As a full service law firm we remain fully committed to providing exceptional client service and offering London-quality services at a fraction of the costs to businesses and individuals, locally, nationally and from around the world.”
Highlights from The Legal 500 UK 2017 rankings
Corporate and Commercial
Birketts ‘demonstrates a high level of professionalism’, with clients citing the team’s ‘accurate, in-depth and timely advice’. The team can draw on expertise from across the firm’s network of four offices nationally to act for a diverse client base of start-up businesses, established family-owned enterprises and public companies covering sectors such as food, technology, energy, agriculture, transport and distribution. In an illustration of its growing workload of high-value international mandates, the firm advised Expedeon on its €35m reverse takeover of Frankfurt-listed German company Sygnis AG.
Key figures include Corporate Finance Partner and team leader Adrian Seagers and corporate transaction specialist James Allen. Senior Partner James Austin leads the team in Ipswich. Adrian Possener is singled out as a ‘very clear thinker'. The ‘exceptional’ practice in Chelmsford offers a mix of corporate and commercial services, with team lead Rafael Ruiz specialising in corporate transactions, Nigel Thompson handling M&A matters in the IT industry and Adam Jones providing experience in restructuring and refinancing.
Birketts’ team in Ipswich was further strengthened with the recruitment of senior corporate lawyer Alexandra Nelson. She has particular experience in matters relating to export control and sanctions compliance, especially for those companies in the aerospace and defence and shipping industries. Clients also pick out legal directors Ed Savory for his franchising expertise and Erika Clarke for her knowledge of the public and not-for-profit sectors. The firm recruited Associate Vicki Mitman, currently affiliate forum chair of the British Franchise Association, augmenting its strength in brand protection and franchising.
Banking and Finance
Clients of Birketts rate the firm for its ‘excellent, cost-effective and attentive service’; it is ‘the best firm in East Anglia’, according to one.
Mark Henry (who is ‘technically extremely capable and very pragmatic’) leads a team that is ‘proactive in raising potential issues and delivering practical solutions’ to a broad range of corporate borrowers. The practice handles acquisition financings, construction and property funding, asset-backed lending and refinancing matters. The team was strengthened with the arrival of a number of associates in 2016; among these is banking, capital markets and derivatives lawyer Charles Kirk.
The team advised Lloyds Bank on the multimillion-pound refinancing of a life sciences group, and HSBC on a revolving credit facility for a regional motor dealer group. The firm also counts Clydesdale Bank and Santander among its clients.
Birketts provides ‘excellent service and has detailed knowledge of corporate, commercial and insolvency law, which is useful in covering all aspects of a dispute’. The department not only has a strong stream of local work, but is also increasing its exposure to matters with a cross-border element thanks to team head Laurence Weeks, who has ‘excellent depth of knowledge in dispute resolution and a pragmatic, sensible and realistic approach that enables him to explain options clearly and calmly’.
Matthew Atkins has been one of the region’s foremost litigators for more than 25 years. The team in Chelmsford is ‘excellent in terms of commitment and results’ and is strong in shareholder disputes, contractual litigation (often regarding sale and purchase agreements) and injunctive remedies. The ‘unflappable, efficient and knowledgeable’ Daden Hunt is known for handling such matters on a cross-border level, particularly involving France, the Netherlands, Indonesia and China.
Insolvency and Corporate Recovery
Birketts has a team of insolvency lawyers spread across its four offices nationwide. For contentious matters the firm has strong practitioners in Laurence Weeks, a council member of the Association of Business Recovery Professionals, and Matthew Atkins, whose skills particularly benefit companies with intellectual property assets. For non-contentious matters the practice calls on experienced corporate partners Greg Allan in Norwich and James Allen in Cambridge. Allan’s highlights included advising Price Bailey LLP as liquidators in a members’ voluntary liquidation that formed part of a larger group company demerger. Weeks also acted for Price Bailey as administrator of Calecore Limited in the defence of £3.5m in security claims, and represented RSM Insolvency in the £12m administration of F.H. Gilman, which may result in litigation.
‘The best in the region’ according to some, Birketts is ‘always at the other end of the phone with excellent advice’ The team, which attracts praise for its ‘quick, efficient, very proactive and commercial approach’, not only has a strong regional presence in developer work, strategic land transactions, investment deals and portfolio management, but also acts for several key clients on a national basis.
Department Head Chris Schwer has significant expertise acting for housebuilders and developers, advising on collaboration arrangements, joint ventures, options and promotion agreements. Katherine Herbert can ‘clearly see how to unlock potential issues in a swift and practical way’. She leads a team with a national reputation for strategic property matters, and which was strengthened by the arrival of Gavin Acheson, who advises on commercial real estate matters for institutional, corporate and private clients. Head of Retail Melissa Loucas is ‘particularly good and always advises in a commercial manner’. Steven Kay focuses on representing national housebuilders in their portfolio and corporate transactions as well as strategic land issues such as land assemblies and agreements.
‘Excellent in every aspect’, Birketts handles the full spectrum of planning matters for a broad client base that includes private and public sector businesses such as minerals and waste companies Tarmac and Lafarge; local authorities such as Cambridge City Council and Breckland District Council; strategic developers such as Countryside Developments and Enterprise Property Group; and a host of regional and national housebuilders. Tom Newcombe leads the team and is ‘a particularly strong asset; a can-do lawyer who has an extensive track record in complicated projects requiring specialist expertise’.
Birketts is ‘excellent on all fronts’, and clients praise its ability to ‘provide a very balanced view of property law’. The firm has one of the largest property litigation teams in East Anglia, giving it the scope to handle every aspect of real estate litigation, although it has particular expertise in Town and Village Green matters, Telecoms Code property matters, rights to light cases and commercial landlord and tenant work.
The ‘careful and meticulous’ Richard Eaton is noted for his combination of ‘outstanding knowledge with practical advice’. John Scannell ‘has vast experience and knows how to put clients in the strongest position’; he ‘combines great tenacity with a keen appreciation of how points will play out in court’. James Robinson is ‘a star performer, technically excellent, practical and commercial’. Simon Woodhead is viewed as 'dogged, persuasive and thoughtful’ who ‘can go toe-to-toe with any QC’ and Charlotte Wormstone, the only 'next generation' Property Litigator for East Anglia, is described by clients as ‘very calm when things get pressured’.
Birketts ‘provides first-class service and the team always makes itself available to discuss any issue’. ‘A first choice for any contentious matters’, the firm has ‘a hands-on approach and provides competent and astute advice that shows a good knowledge of the construction industry and comes at significantly better value than its peers in London’. The practice’s three construction partners also garner high praise: Andrew Rush ‘has real depth of experience and provides sage advice on contentious issues’; litigator Ruth Sunaway is ‘a very tenacious and committed lawyer who leaves no stone unturned to find the best solution for her clients’; and newly promoted Construction and Engineering Partner Stefan Harris-Wright in Cambridge, who is ‘commercial and gets things done quickly’.
Birketts’ ‘prompt, professional’ practice provides advice that is ‘always sound and commercially appropriate’. The firm has a large team that advises on all aspects of employment law across a diverse range of sectors such as agriculture, energy, education, charities, health and technology. It predominantly acts for employers, but also handles significant matters for senior managers and directors. Jeanette Wheeler in Norwich leads the national employment team and is ‘particularly helpful, always available and provides guidance that is always valuable and measured to help achieve the best outcomes’. Abigail Trencher leads the Cambridge team and Catherine Johnson (who ‘provides robust and balanced advice without losing sight of the commercial drivers’) leads the Ipswich team. The ‘highly experienced and commercially savvy’ Kevin Palmer, who also serves as a Tribunal Judge, handles TUPE, restructurings, director and senior executive exits and High Court proceedings across a variety of industries.
The ‘first-class’ team at Birketts is ‘practical and knowledgeable’, providing ‘fast, efficient advice which helps greatly with many immigration matters, including sponsorship and work permit issues’. The group supports employers seeking to recruit workers from outside the EU, advises on sponsor license and visa applications, acts for high net-worth individuals and entrepreneurs, and also advises on various individual matters including spouse and ancestry visas, naturalisation applications and permanent residence.
Practice head Janice Leggett provides ‘top-notch’ advice on the full range of immigration matters, with a particular specialism in UK commercial film production, and senior associate Clare Hedges has significant experience handling sponsor revocations, Tier 2 applications and the prevention of illegal working.
Agriculture and Estates
Birketts has a strong regional presence across its four offices, from which it serves a diverse client base across England and Wales. Its broad practice encompasses ecclesiastical law, public access issues, aggregates extraction and management, renewable energy projects, structuring family successions and taxation, as well as mainstream agricultural and property law advice linked to sales, purchases, tenancies, options and development. Team Head Jack Royall (who ‘can be relied upon for sound advice’) and estate planner Neil Sparrow are noted for their ‘experience and calm, considered approach; they are good listeners with the ability to make things happen’. They draw on a range of experts across the firm, including property lawyers James Dinwiddy and Rachel Mc Killop-Wilkin; Nigel Farthing in Ipswich, who handles issues relating to public rights of way, Commons and Town and Village Greens and related contentious issues; Stuart Jones, who advises landowners and mineral operators on the development and management of mineral deposits and also handles large renewable energy projects; and Christopher Coupland, who leads the firm’s agricultural banking team as well as advising on property matters.
Charities and Not-For-Profit
The service from Birketts is ‘genuinely excellent, prompt and well informed’. The specialist Charities Team has ‘superb expert knowledge’ and works cross-office, bringing together capabilities from practices such as employment, property, corporate and dispute resolution. Team Head and Senior Associate Sara Sayer is ‘first rate – clever, knowledgeable and personable’. Legal Director Erika Clarke has ‘in-depth knowledge of the charity sector and a sensible approach’. Clients also pick out agricultural specialist and Legal Director Stuart Jones; ecclesiastical law specialist James Hall, and Senior Associate Liz Brownsell, who ‘has in-depth knowledge of charity law’. The team acted for a health and hospice charity on transactions involving the acquisition of leasehold properties for charity shops and the development of a new site for a purpose-built hospice. Its long list of clients includes the Diocese of Norwich, Suffolk Wildlife Trust, East Anglia Children’s Hospice and the London Diocesan Fund.
Personal Tax, Trusts and Probate
The Private Client Department at Birketts ‘is excellent across the board’ and ‘a pleasure to deal with’, creating a ‘balance of technical ability, practical advice and reasonable cost’. ‘Technically strong and personable’ Tim Galloway focuses on cross-border and multi-jurisdictional planning work regarding wills, trusts, probate and foundations, typically resulting from citizenship, marriage or assets based abroad.
Its practice covers the full range of trusts, tax, succession planning and probate matters but it has notable areas of specialist expertise that include advice to trustees and beneficiaries of domestic and offshore trusts; trust management and accountancy; wills and lifetime planning for business executives and landowners; Court of Protection matters; and Inheritance Tax and Capital Gains Tax advice.
Caroline Stenner, who provides ‘clear advice’, and Senior Associate Catherine Bacon both ‘understand the issues’. Louise Long is well known for her advice on IHT matters, often involving multimillion-pound estates. Charles Boscawen has in-depth knowledge of tax, trusts and property relief matters. In Norwich, highly experienced Partners Lorna Spear and agricultural trust expert Jack Royall are ‘knowledgeable, approachable and friendly’.
Contentious Trusts and Probate
Birketts is one of a small number of firms with a dedicated contentious trusts and probate practitioner in Senior Associate Bernadette Baker, who is a member of the Association of Contentious Trust and Probate Specialists (ACTAPS). Commercial Litigation Partner Paul Matthews leads the practice from Norwich and is ‘proactive, well prepared and a strong advocate for his clients’. Associate Susannah Catchpole is also recommended for contentious probate, trust, commercial and agricultural matters. Daden Hunt recently advised two individuals in a matter where adopted children claimed entitlement to a proportion of a trust, a case involving trust interpretation and human rights considerations.
Birketts has a highly respected practice that represents high-net-worth individuals in East Anglia, London and beyond. It has twelve fee-earners across its four offices, all of whom are members of Resolution; their caseloads often include matters involving complex jurisdictional claims concerning finances and children. Oliver Gravell has more than 25 years’ experience and leads a team that includes experienced Senior Associate Katie Beaven, who acts in matters with complex financial arrangements including divorce, separation, and nuptial agreements, and who represents clients both in court and in arbitration proceedings. Senior Associate Juliet Harvey sits on the national committee of Resolution. Solicitor Lisa Churchill is well regarded for financial and Children Act matters. Also recommended is ‘intelligent and efficient’ Senior Associate Emma Brunning, who ‘cuts through the facts with precision and at light speed’
Birketts is best known for acting for registered providers (RPs) of social housing in development projects, sales, financings, planning, housing management, employment and constitutional and regulatory matters. The firm helps private housebuilders to set up new RPs and in 2016 it completed two successful registration processes. It also advises RPs on setting up asset and liabilities registers. Many members of its team belong to industry organisations such as the Chartered Institute of Housing and Social Housing Law Association. Peter Goddard leads the Social Housing and Residential Development Team from Norwich. Senior Associate Emily Groom handles development and regulatory matters for social landlords.
Transport and Shipping
Birketts ‘compares favourably to the leading shipping firms worldwide’, according to one client. Its responsive team’ has ‘good industry knowledge and experience’ and handles disputes relating to bills of lading, charterparties, cargo claims, shipbuilding, marine insurance, cruise and ferry line operation, as well as handling salvage, ship arrest and collision claims. West of England, Tradhol Internacional, Raets Marine Insurance, Allianz Global & Speciality France and AXA Corporate Solutions Assurances are clients. Nicholas Woo heads the team, which includes Alex Davey, who ‘takes a very commercial, pragmatic approach and has good sector expertise’; he handles defence work for shipowners and charterers. Also recommended are Henry Adams, who handles disputes involving cargo damage, as well as marine insurance disputes, and Lisa Wortley, who advises on charterparty disputes and cargo claims. Also recommended is Senior Associate Sarah Holsgrove, for contentious shipping and international trade work.
Health and Safety
Birketts has ‘an excellent team that is professional but at the same time has personality, and which can offer clear advice with little jargon’. The Regulatory and Corporate Defence Team has extensive cross-industry experience in serious matters including disasters and cases of multiple fatalities. It also provides a full service from Solicitors, Barristers and Health and Safety Consultants, who advise corporate clients on regulatory compliance. Consultant Frank Sykes, who has experience as principal inspector at the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is recommended for his ‘candid and considered advice’. Senior Associate Julie Gowland and Philippa Dyer both have extensive experience in criminal and regulatory law. The firm is currently acting for a company in the engineering sector that faced charges relating to a multiple fatality that occurred on a construction project. The case is due for trial in the High Court this year.
Birketts is ‘a very professional firm that punches well above its weight’. The firm primarily acts for regional clients, although its roster of international clients is growing, as illustrated by its handling of UK and EU trade mark matters for New Zealand winemaker Villa Maria Estate. The team, led by litigator Matthew Atkins, has standout practitioners in Senior Associate Nellie Jackson (who ‘provides very commercial and practical advice’). The team manages the trade mark portfolio of global group Elektron Technology.
IT and Telecoms
Birketts’ ‘very highly rated’ practice ‘gets things done when it says they will be done’, according to clients who praise the firm’s ‘breadth of knowledge, pragmatic advice and willingness to put across its client’s points in negotiation’. The firm handles complex IT transactions for UK and international businesses ranging from start-ups to multinationals. Head of Team Quentin Golder is ‘very approachable and good at explaining the consequences – he really delivers’. Golder advised internal security software provider BullGuard Limited on software development and licensing agreements, website terms and conditions, data protection and distribution contracts. He also acted for utility meter and cloud-based billing services company Ista Energy Services on customer service agreements. Kitty Rosser assisted CRM system provider Time for Advice on new arrangements with customers to handle its new modular technology solution. Nigel Thompson has particular expertise in software and product licensing and is advising software company Commcise on supplying the Commcise Buy solution to BNP Paribas, which will run across its global offices.
Birketts is ‘exceptional – the quality of the personnel is excellent’. The practice provides transactional tax advice on corporate M&A transactions, notably for family and owner-managed businesses, and advises on the tax implications of strategic land development and employee incentive schemes. Senior Associate Karl Pocock leads the team and has 14 years’ experience as a specialist in Corporate Tax matters.
Julie Gowland leads a team at Birketts that has a strong regional presence and a dedicated focus on licensing matters. Its diverse client base includes brewers, hotel chains, night clubs, race courses, event operators, churches, wedding venues, public houses and concert promoters. The Regulatory and Corporate Defence Team advised TA Hotel Collection on numerous licensing applications including variations to premises licences. It also prepared several new premises licences for Gastro Pubs Ltd, which operates Middletons Steakhouse & Grill outlets. Clients also include Patisserie Valerie and Whitwell & Reepham Railway.
Birketts provides ‘an excellent level of service’. The ‘friendly and helpful’ team ‘is always available to deal with queries’. Litigation Partner Matthew Atkins and 40-year veteran Debt Recovery Manager Robert Howard ‘always know the best route to take with debtors’. They lead a team that includes associate Emma Albins and three Debt Recovery Assistants, and which acts for private companies, professional partnerships and Plcs such as Greene King, Archant Community Media, Ford & Slater Leyland DAF and Haven Power Limited. In a key matter the firm acted for a company pursuing a customer for unpaid commercial utility bills. The matter, which involved complex issues around the partition of the premises in question, was settled at mediation.