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DLA Piper UK LLP’s β€˜commercial and proactive’ team continued to feature heavily on significant restructuring mandates for professional services and banking clients, such as KPMG and Lloyds Bank. Practice head Huw Dolphin is advising PricewaterhouseCoopers as administrators of the Caparo Industries Group on the ongoing administration of 16 companies in the group, and he is assisting the same client with the administration of the Polestar Group. Another key player is John Jeffreys, who focuses on the non-contentious aspects of real estate insolvencies and wins praise for his β€˜negotiation skills and transaction execution’. Jeffreys acted for the private office of Ranjit Singh Boparan and the 2 Sisters Food Group on the acquisition of the business and various assets of the Bernard Matthews Group following a pre-packaged sale of the company; and in another piece of work, the same lawyer is advising the asset managers for Erste Abwicklungsanstalt and Colliers International on the appointment of Law of Property Receivers regarding Sim Chem House in Cheadle Hulme, Manchester. Legal director Charlotte Duce is also strong in the real estate space and, together with Jeffreys, is advising Ernst & Young on the administration of Tesla Exploration International.

Eversheds Sutherland (International) LLP was active on restructuring mandates across a broad range of sectors, including retail, education, aerospace and financial services. The team is led by the β€˜highly effective’ Andrew Jordan, who β€˜has a number of strong local and national relationships in the lender and turnaround market’. Jordan acted for Bernard Matthews and Rutland Partners in the long-term restructure of the business and its subsequent sale, and also advised Deloitte in relation to the pre-packaged sale of the business and assets of CAV Aerospace. Below partner level, principal associates Jenna Poulton and Anne-Louise Lawrence provide significant depth to the practice; Poulton was active in restructurings for clients such as Gardman Group and Grange Securities, while Lawrence, who specialises in real estate restructuring, often with a retail element, assisted Jordan in representing PricewaterhouseCoopers in the pre-packaged sale of the business and assets of Brantano, including dealing with the workout of 140 stores. The team was further enhanced by the hire of principal associate Laura Taylor, who joined from DLA Piper UK LLP; Taylor specialises in providing non-contentious advice to banks as well as private equity and distressed funds.

Gateley Plc is a favourite with clients such as Santander and BDO and is hailed for its β€˜team approach and willingness to work on matters where the fees are particularly at risk’. On the contentious side, practice head Mark Wilson, who has β€˜developed into one of the best lawyers in the sector’, has particular expertise in high-value director and officeholder duty, misfeasance and complex fraud cases; Wilson successfully acted for Grant Thornton in an application for summary judgment/interim payment against former directors of Angelmist, in relation to losses arising from the offshore transfer of a London commercial property valued at Β£190m. Daniel French leads on non-contentious mandates and is recognised as β€˜an excellent restructuring partner with a good breadth of experience, who is very well thought of in the marketplace’. French acted for KPMG as administrators of Trod in relation to the sale of certain assets of the business to two separate trade buyers, and also represented Laidlaw (UK) and Intrinsic Equity on the acquisition of Leaderflush Shapland (in administration) and Interiors Manufacturing (in administration). The substantial team includes newly promoted senior associate Louise Gill, who is β€˜detailed and confident’.

Gowling WLG’s team has a long-established reputation for acting as advisers to regional corporates, local authorities and lenders on confidential debt restructurings, exits and workouts, and dispute matters. Jasvir Jootla has particular expertise in the retail and leisure sectors, and represented Dunelm Group in its Β£8.5m acquisition of the assets of online retail businesses Worldstores, Achica and Kiddicare following a pre-packaged administration sale by KPMG. In another piece of work, the same lawyer advised United Biscuits on its acquisition of a warehousing operation in insolvency. The practice was also active in the public sector, where it advised Gloucestershire County Council in the sourcing of services as part of the pre-packaged administration of 4Children. On the insolvency practitioner side, clients include PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte and Baker Tilly. Contentious specialist Ian Weatherall, and London-based Julian Pallett, who heads the team, are the other main contacts.

Irwin Mitchell’s practice, which is noted as β€˜very good on restructuring asset-based lending matters’, was instructed on the largest insolvency in the West Midlands in the last 12 months, the administration of Covpress. As well as providing pre-administration advice to ABN AMRO Commercial Finance and ABN AMRO Lease NV on funding, security and cash flow issues in respect of Covpress, the team also assisted Grant Thornton prior to and after its appointment as administrator. Non-contentious specialist Stephen George, who β€˜provides pragmatic and effective advice with a strong focus on high-quality delivery’, leads the team and has particular expertise in advising on pension deficit matters for corporates, insolvency practitioners and the PPF. In another highlight, George and associate Amy Keogh, who is β€˜thorough and detailed’, represented Lloyds Bank Commercial Finance, Lloyds Banking Group and Deloitte as administrators in relation to the administration of Laidlaw Interiors Group.

Pinsent Masons LLP’s practice is particularly recommended for its β€˜knowledge of the not-for-profit and education sectors’, and the team advised FRP on the administration and sale of Dagfa House in Nottingham, including assisting with an application for consent from the Charity Commission. Practice head Amy Flavell is β€˜technically very strong, provides fantastic restructuring leadership, and gets highly complex assignments over the line’. Flavell’s caseload included representing Grant Thornton on the administration of Vantage Design & Build, and advising the board of Silverstar Foods on its options prior to administration. The team benefits from the firm’s strong bank and asset-based lender client base, and Flavell regularly assists Edward Sunderland with the refinancing of invoice finance facilities arising from distress. Commercial property specialist Carl Scott leads on property insolvency matters.

β€˜Advice is provided in a straightforward and accessible manner’ at Shakespeare Martineau LLP, where the team handles transactional and contentious work for the likes of Lloyds Bank and KPMG. Head of practice Andrew Taylor demonstrates a β€˜strong commitment to client service, with a highly effective commercial edge’, and advised Grant Thornton in relation to the administration of Hobby Products International Europe. Taylor also handles personal insolvency, and assisted a trustee in bankruptcy on various contentious issues arising from the bankruptcy of a care home business, including defending an application to appeal the trustee’s rejection of a proof of debt of a family member. Another name to note is Stuart Taylor, who advises asset-based lenders such as Aldermore Invoice Finance and has a β€˜comprehensive knowledge of the receivables financial market’. Sam Payne moved to Harrison Clark Rickerbys.

Shoosmiths LLP’s β€˜very knowledgeable team’ acts for a wide variety of clients on the full spectrum of insolvency matters, from business sales to litigation. One particular area of strength is the retail sector, where team continued to be highly active: it advised Grabal Alok (UK) in relation to a company voluntary arrangement, and acted for AlixPartners, as administrators of Be-Wise. National head of practice James Keates is β€˜flexible and creative’ and regularly assists private equity investors in connection with their recovery strategies for distressed investments. Below partner level, recommended lawyers include senior associates Aaron Harlow and Charles Williams, who both assisted Keates with mandates for FRP Advisory, including advising on the administrations of Redhill Analysts and R Capital, and Vent Vision.

At Squire Patton Boggs, β€˜business acumen and industry knowledge are particularly strong’, which continues to attract new clients such as Handelsbanken and Tipton & Coseley Building Society. On the contentious side, practice head Devinder Singh, who has a β€˜great reputation for client service’, focuses on litigation for officeholders, creditors and other stakeholders and specialises in the retail, automotive and manufacturing sectors. Non-contentious specialist Russell Hill β€˜has a really good knowledge of restructuring best practice, and works well in complex matters where he can set the right tone amongst all parties to move the project forward’. Hill was busy on a number of cross-border mandates, including representing Traxxas on the proposed acquisition of Hobby Products International Europe (in administration), and also advising KPMG as administrators of Mayridge on the sale of two divisions of the business in the UK and the Czech Republic.

Richard Preston is in charge at Beswicks Legal, where the team remained busy on litigation arising from personal and corporate insolvencies. Besides handling an increase in instructions from directors in defending complex insolvency claims, the team also secured work from new clients such as Oury Clark and AABRS. RSM and Begbies Traynor are key clients.

Clarke Willmott LLP’s β€˜value-for-money’ practice focuses on asset recovery work for insolvency practitioners and the Insolvency Service and has a good record for recovery of sums from misfeasant directors. The team has expanded its advisory and transactional expertise, advising management teams, banks and asset-based lenders on distressed situations; in one example, practice head Stephanie Slinn advised on the MBO of an insolvent business, including finance and property reorganisation in preparation for securitisation. Senior associate Sheena Tandy is able to β€˜apply her excellent knowledge of legislation in a commercial manner’.

DWF’s team is probably best known for handling a significant amount of distressed property and receivership for lender clients such as Nationwide Building Society and West Bromwich Commercial. Senior associate Richard Holmes provides β€˜very good, solid insolvency and restructuring advice’, and practice head Sean McGrath, who divides his time between the firm’s Birmingham and Manchester offices, is praised for his β€˜excellent overall case management’.

Harrison Clark Rickerbys continued to develop its turnaround offering to management teams seeking to address and avoid insolvency events, albeit with some change at the top, following the arrival of Sam Payne from Shakespeare Martineau LLP to take charge of the team. Payne, who β€˜cuts straight to the key issues and gives straight answers’, is acting for RSM Restructuring Advisory as joint administrators of a company producing digital assessment technology, and is also representing an agricultural parts manufacturer on a substantial restructuring mandate. In other highlights, the team secured a number of instructions from directors facing disqualification proceedings.

Under the leadership of David Ellis, Higgs & Sons provides β€˜prompt, reliable commercial advice and a depth of knowledge that can be relied upon’. In 2016, the team was engaged on a good mix of contentious and non-contentious work and had further instructions in areas such as deceased insolvency, insolvencies of charities and not-for-profit organisations, and buy-to-let insolvency. Associate Oliver Ward-Jones joined Squire Patton Boggs in 2017.

Sydney Mitchell LLP’s practice offers β€˜exceptional value for money’ and is also noted for its ability to β€˜quickly grasp the instruction and work with the officeholder to implement (and refine as necessary) the strategy’. Practice head Leanne Schneider-Rose has a loyal following of lenders and insolvency practitioners, such as AIB Group and Smith & Williamson, and wins praise for her β€˜attention to detail and thorough approach’.

David Cleary and John Cooper are the main contacts at The Wilkes Partnership, where the practice covers a full range of insolvency services, including formal corporate and individual insolvency advice to insolvency practitioners, advice to corporates on restructuring, and provision of legal support to directors under attack after liquidation.

Wright Hassall LLP’s team underwent some change in 2016, with the arrival of senior associate Caroline Benfield from Knights Professional Services Limited and the departure of Emma Easton to gunnercooke LLP. Benfield has the β€˜ability to immediately understand the issues’, and acts for insolvency practitioners on both corporate and personal insolvencies. The team handled numerous contentious mandates – including wrongful dividends and misfeasance claims - for clients such as Robert Day & Company and Accura Accountants Business Recovery Turnaround.

At FBC Manby Bowdler LLP, commercial litigator Gareth Ruddock has strong experience acting in contentious matters, including cases involving allegations of wrongful trading, fraud and breach of duty, as well as officeholder claims under the Insolvency Act 1986. Recent examples of Ruddock’s work include representing a client in a contested court administration application dealing with validity of debenture and ability to appoint an administrator, and handling antecedent claims against directors with cross-jurisdictional property assets. Corporate specialist James Sage focuses on non-contentious matters and, together with Ruddock, advised an invoice factoring business on the restructuring of the company and the recovery of assets.

Thursfields Solicitors’ team is led by senior associate Lauren Hartigan-Pritchard, who is β€˜experienced beyond her years, intellectually savvy and popular with clients’. The team secured a number of new clients in 2016, including RSM, Monahans and Deloitte, and Hartigan-Pritchard acted for the latter named in connection with the recovery of assets following the administration of the VIA Partnership. The practice encompasses both non-contentious and contentious work and has experience in corporate and personal insolvencies.

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Legal Developments in West Midlands for Insolvency and corporate recovery

  • New revised guidelines for administrators in pre-pack sales

    Pre-pack sales by administrators are now used frequently enough for most people in business to be aware of them and many have come across them in their business lives. A small amount of controversy still attaches to pre-packs, but it is probably right to say that they are now an accepted part of the UK business scene as a useful means of rescuing a business in difficulty and preserving some or all of the jobs connected with the business.
    - Druces

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