National law firm becomes first ever to flog shares on London stock exchange

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By Judge John Hack on

Gateley confirms weekend rumours that it is about to set up its stall on the AIM market


Scottish nationalists may be gearing up to use their new-found parliamentary muscle to mount one more heave towards independence, but the solictiors’ profession on both sides of the border has been blending over recent years.

And now the trailblazer of Anglo-Scottish law firm mergers — the 2006 link between Midlands-based Gateley Waring and Edinburgh’s Henderson Boyd Jackson — is again making history by becoming the first UK law firm to float on the London exchange.

The firm — now simply Gateley — announced yesterday that it intends to plunge into the shark-infested waters of public ownership. A statement released this morning confirmed a Sunday Times (£) report at the weekend that the firm will launch an initial offering on the London exchange’s Alternative Investment Market, although no timetable was released.

However, it will not be the first publicly-owned law firm in the jurisdiction. That honour went to the cork-hatted Slater & Gordon, when it took over London trade union specialist firm Russell Jones & Walker three years ago. In 2007, the firm listed on its home stock exchange in Sydney.

Law firms have been allowed to float in the UK since implementation of elements of the Legal Services Act 2007, which wiped out more than 200 years of traditional partnership structures. That means the road is clear for Gateley’s senior partnership to start taking orders from housewives, plumbers, bus conductors (do they still exist?) — and of course major institutional investors, such as pension funds.

Rising profit

Gateley — which focuses on financial services, corporate, employment, pensions and property — is currently home to more than 380 fee earners across six offices in England and Scotland, plus an outpost in Dubai. It offers 11 training contracts each year.

The firm claims that over the last decade it has grown revenue by more than 14% and profit by nearly 15%. The Law Gazette went trawling through the most recent companies files for the firm’s LLP records, which showed that it had increased pre-tax profit tax in 2013/14 from £17.1m to £20.4m. That was on the back of rising turnover of some £3m, translating to an average profit-per-partner figure of £222,017, compared with £194,425 the year before.

In today’s statement, the firm’s chief executive, Michael Ward, reached for the cliché and jargon handbook:

“We believe the catalysts for value creation are now to acquire, incentivise, differentiate and where sensible diversify. These opportunities for growth will undoubtedly be most accessible as a PLC and we want to be the first to be able to take advantage of them.”