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The legal market remains in flux and nowhere less so than in Manchester, two high-profile examples being the closure of corporate boutique firm EOS law in December 2013, with Ward Hadaway taking on the majority of its work, and Linder Myers LLP’s close avoidance of administration through a restructuring deal with Assure Law.

Pannone’s merger with personal injury firm Slater & Gordon, which had already acquired both Liverpool-based Goodmans Law and Fentons Solicitors during 2013, to form Pannone, part of Slater & Gordon was the main movement in the market. The deal saw Pannone sell its consumer law practices to the Australian-listed firm, while spin-off Pannone Corporate LLP took on the smaller corporate division. A number of lawyers chose to leave altogether, including Philip Treanor and Simon Pedley, who both joined Mills & Reeve LLP, and Kit Sorrell, who went to Regulatory Legal Solicitors.

It may be a competitive market, but Manchester continues to pull in new players, attracted by the dynamic economic market and healthy activity in the real estate and corporate sectors.

TLT entered the market in 2013 with the hire of six partners from Irwin Mitchell, including commercial litigator John Lord and employment partner Ed Cotton, as well as taking on IP expert Graeme Orchison from DLA Piper UK LLP.

Fieldfisher is merging with boutique outfit Heatons LLP, while both Berwin Leighton Paisner LLP and personal injury specialist Leigh Day announced Manchester office openings for 2014.

Other key developments include Irwin Mitchell acquiring insurance firm MPH Solicitors, and Serious Law LLP partnering with insurer Allianz for an ABS licence.

Gunnercooke LLP hired employment lawyers Simon Horsfield and Sara Sawicki from Pinsent Masons LLP; while Sue Morrison left with James Upton to set up niche employment practice Law by Design Ltd.

In Liverpool, firms are taking advantage of regeneration schemes and new developments such as the super port and Mersey Gateway, while retail and leisure are key growth sectors. The legal market here has experienced contraction than the consolidation in Manchester, although Chester-based DTM Legal LLP opened a new office in the city.

In the rest of the region, there is likely to be yet more consolidation. Larger players continue to take advantage of a low cost-base and strategic mergers to gain market share, with Slater Heelis LLP recently taking over Cottrills, giving the firm a Manchester office.

Addleshaw Goddard LLP remains a leading regional player, underpinned by a strong corporate and institutional client base. It is particularly noted for its corporate, finance and commercial property work, as well as a broader national and international focus.

DLA Piper UK LLP attracts significant regional, national and cross-border work, reflecting the firm’s significant global offering. Partner departures were followed by new managing partner appointments, with Liam Cowell taking over from David Gray in Manchester, and Ben Miller replacing Philip Rooney in Liverpool. Corporate, projects and finance are among the firm’s core strengths.

Eversheds LLP remains involved in major regional and national work, thanks to a strong corporate client base, but was affected by restructuring in its Manchester office. Core strengths include real estate, corporate and the education sector.

Pinsent Masons LLP handles a range of regional, national and cross-border work, with a strong reputation for private equity, banking, property and construction matters.

Brabners LLP has a solid regional reputation, and is particularly notable in Liverpool. It is a leading North West firm for sports law, and also has strength in areas such as private client, corporate and social housing work. It hired licensing lawyer Lachlan Nisbet from Hill Dickinson LLP, and restructuring specialist Robert Turner as consultant from EOS Law.

DAC Beachcroft LLP’s professional negligence partner Ian McConkey took over from real estate lawyer Robert Moss as Manchester office head. It remains nationally focused, with particular strength in areas such as insurance and healthcare. In June 2014, the firm announced the closure of one of its Manchester offices.

DWF continues to embed its Cobbetts acquisition and made further lateral hires, including Suzanne Gregson, who was formerly head of affordable housing litigation at Eversheds LLP. It retains a sector-led approach, and has strengths in personal injury, HR and private client work, as well as being focused on growing its commercial offering.

Having fully integrated the Halliwells combination, Gateley was granted an ABS licence in December 2013. It has a solid reputation for its private equity, real estate, banking and corporate work.

Hill Dickinson LLP announced redundancies and sold its Chester-based office to Knights Solicitors LLP in July 2013, as it balanced expansion and investment with its offerings in both insurance and commercial services. Sector focuses include health, marine and trade, while it has a solid reputation for finance, corporate and real estate work.

Squire Patton Boggs leverages its global and UK network to handle a high volume of cross-border and national mandates. Environmental lawyer Rob Elvin replaced corporate partner Jane Haxby as office head in July 2013, and former Pannone, part of Slater & Gordon construction partner Sean McCay was recruited in March 2014, a major lateral hire.

Weightmans LLP’s core strength remains insurance, though high-profile hires from major players, including environmental lawyer Simon Colvin from Pinsent Masons LLP, and Liverpool-based litigator Andrew Roberts from DLA Piper UK LLP, demonstrate its strong commitment to developing other practice areas.

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