Field Fisher makes play for Manchester market as it lines up boutique bolt-on

Partners give go-ahead to merger with Heatons as FFW aims to bolster presence in city

Field Fisher Waterhouse (FFW) has agreed merger terms with Manchester boutique Heatons.

The tie-up will add eight partners, 12 associates and a further six fee earners to the London-based firm’s headcount. Partners voted the merger through earlier this week (4 February). 

FFW, which has had a Manchester base since 2004, will merge its practice with Heatons’ headquarters in the city. The office will be managed by Heatons’ current managing partner, Matt Fleetwood. 

The deal will see FFW’s revenue touch the £100m barrier, with Heatons predicting turnover of £4m for 2013-14. FFW’s turnover for 2012-13 came in at £95m.

Five of Heatons’ eight existing partners are expected to join the equity at FFW, with the remaining joining the salaried partner ranks. Profit per equity partner at FFW stood at £402,000 in 2012-13. It is understood that Heatons’ profitability broadly matches the London firm.

FFW managing partner Michael Chissick told Legal Week that the two firms had initially spoken about a merger four years ago after it became clear that FFW’s Manchester office, which currently has one partner, would struggle to grow organically.

“We have not perhaps taken the office forward in the way we would like,” he added. “I think we did have aspirations of growing the offer. But we have never been able to take it up to the sort of size where it would have credibility in the local market.”FFW’s Manchester office has to date focused on employment and professional regulatory work, based around a strong relationship with flagship client the General Medical Council (GMC). But Chissick admitted that the flow of work from the GMC had slowed in recent years as it opted to handle more work in-house.

Chissick said Heatons’ strengths in corporate, real estate and construction would provide a good fit with FFW’s existing practices. 

“They are a modest size but the ability they have at partner level is a good fit.”

Chissick said the bolt-on merger was part of a “change programme” at his firm, which began with his appointment as managing partner a year ago.

As part of a growth strategy at the firm, 13 lateral partners joined last year, with a similar number expected to follow in 2014.