MILTON Keynes has become a by-word for City-quality legal advice at a fraction of the cost, says this year’s edition of the Legal 500.

The publication says that the city is the “natural choice” for many of the leading firms in the South East region. The reason, it adds, is the number of finance houses, retailers and insurance companies that have chosen to base themselves in the city.

Five of the 25 largest law firms in the South East have a presence in Milton Keynes, with another – Taylor Walton – based in Luton.

The Legal 500 says: “The South East is one of the most prosperous regions in the country. Home-grown businesses are outwardly expansive and external investment pours into the region.”

As a result, law firms are recruiting London-trained lawyers to bring in work that would otherwise remain in the City’s Square Mile. Of Milton Keynes in particular, the guide adds: “The town has become synonymous with the offer of London-quality advice at lower cost.”

The newest arrival in Milton Keynes is Matthew Arnold & Baldwin, based in Watford but which has brought 40 staff – several of whom were recruited from Fennemores earlier this year – to its new offices in the former Charles Schwab building in Central Milton Keynes.

The office fulfils a long-standing ambition of the 100-year-old firm to replicate its success in Watford and follows closely the opening of MAB’s London office last year. Its core business remains in property, corporate and employment law but it has targeted a move to Milton Keynes for some time.

Joint managing partner Ian Donaldson said: “In an area which is poised for strong growth in both business and private sectors in the next few years, the location of Milton Keynes makes it a natural choice for the firm’s continued development.”

Shoosmiths, which has a significant presence in Central Milton Keynes and throughout the South East, remains the largest firm by number of fee-earners in the region. MAB is 11th, Pictons Solicitors 15th, Taylor Walton 19th and Woodfines LLP at 23rd. The now-dissolved Fennemores was the 21st largest law practice in the region last year.

In Milton Keynes, the particular strength comes in corporate and commercial work. emw law LLP, Howes Percival, Kimbells LLP, MAB and Shoosmiths fill the top tier in the specialism, with some of their lawyers named among the South East’s leading individuals.

emw law, which “pulled off a great coup” in recruiting three key partners and other staff from Fennemores earlier this year, is cited for its work with an increasing number of banks, plcs and international organisations.

Howes Percival has an “outstanding” reputation in corporate law, while Kimbells has a series of impressed clients, says the Legal 500. MAB’s corporate department is well regarded, while Shoosmiths has a “robust” national practice.

Taylor Walton’s commercial work is “first-class” while Dunham Solicitors – based at Wolverton Mill and named in the Legal 500 for the first time – “has good links to the USA and is already handling some impressive instructions”.

Commercial property specialists Denton Wilde Sapte “offers quality and strength in depth in construction and property”.

The city centre firm also rates in the top tier in the Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Middlesex area for its commercial litigation expertise, as does Howes Percival under international arbitration specialist Louis Flannery and Andrew Myers. MAB partner Mark Tudor also comes particularly recommended, the guide says.

Geoffrey Leaver Solicitors’ recruitment of many of the Fennemores staff has propelled it into a high position in several areas of expertise, including corporate and commercial work, commercial litigation, employment and commercial property.

Employment remains a strength among many local firms. Taylor Walton, Kimbells and emw law comprise the top tier in the BBHM area and others recommended include MAB, Shoosmiths, Howes Percival, Woodfines and Geoffrey Leaver.

Of Taylor Walton’s team at Luton , the Legal 500 says: “The strong team continues to raise its profile in contentious and strategic employment law.”

Kimbells’ employment work is, the guide adds, “as effective as its corporate and commercial activities.”

It also refers to emw law’s complete human resources outsourcing package. “Peers acknowledge that the team is strong and clients describe its advice as practical and timely,” the guide says.

Shoosmiths’ employment department numbers the Open University and Volkswagen Group UK among its Milton Keynes clients and enjoys a solid reputation despite the departure earlier this year of its head Susan Mallalieu.

Denton Wilde Sapte’s employment practice is building steadily, the guide says, and it describes Geoffrey Leaver’s work under Brian Charlton as an “extremely professional practice.”

English Partnerships are among the clients of Denton Wilde Sapte, which remains in the top four BBHM firms for commercial property. The recruitment of Fennemores partners Simon Ingram and Rob Goffman to work alongside Angela Pollock has thrust emw law into the top tier, highlighted by the firm securing a place on Abbey’s property panel.

Taylor Walton’s commercial property lawyers have acquired Sportsworld and Timpson as clients, maintaining the firm’s position in the top tier.
Kimbells, which doubled the size of its commercial property department, remains the sole property adviser to London Luton Airport, while Matthew Arnold & Baldwin’s growing practice handles work including that in development and finance.

Howes Percival’s department under Siobhan Duff, has gained an increasing amount of property finance work for banks, while Dunham Solicitors and Geoffrey Leaver also come highly recommended.

Shoosmiths remains the leading local firm for information technology work but emw law’s department under Robert Cain is described as “switched-on”. The firm advises Milton Keynes-based EU Energy on licensing of its technology around the world.

Howes Percival also has particular IT expertise and Matthew Arnold & Baldwin is benefiting from the expertise of recent recruit Riaz Bowmer, formerly with Fennemores and emw law.

Gary Assim remains a leading national expert in intellectual property matters, with particular expertise in retail. Mr Assim, head of Shoosmiths’ office in Milton Keynes, advised on the European design rights regulations, while Shoosmiths has acted for Dr Martens in a major case centred on implied terms of contracts relating to IP rights.

Kimbells and emw law are also recommended.

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