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Home » Big Interview: Nelsons Law Firm CEO Stewart Vandermark On Why Time Was Right For Private Equity Investment

Big Interview: Nelsons Law Firm CEO Stewart Vandermark On Why Time Was Right For Private Equity Investment

The boss of Nelsons law firm has told BusinessLive why the time was right to bring in private investment to help the firm with the next stage of its growth plans. Chief executive Stewart Vandermark said the backing would allow it to grow its legal offering in the SME, private individual and family sectors, and at the same time maintain its existing brand, structure and identity.

He spoke a couple of months after the firm – which has around 150 staff at its central office in Nottingham, about 40 in Leicester and more than 50 in Derby – was acquired by national law firm Lawfront. The acquisition doubled the size of Lawfront, which was only founded in 2021, taking it to annual revenues of more than £40 million.

The new owner was set up by London-based Blixt Group, which invests in mid-market companies across Europe.

Mr Vandermark said the previous Nelsons ownership structure was made up of 10 equity partners and more than two-dozen non-equity partners. The financial arrangements, he said, could not be disclosed as they were subject to confidentiality clauses.

He said: “It’s been quite an interesting journey. Just after I started as chief exec in 2018 we did quite a lot of work around who we were trying to be culturally, what Nelsons was, where were we trying to go and what our vision was.

“We were about £15 million [turnover] then and set a three year plan to try and get to £20 million, and a 10 year plan to get to £35 million across the three offices which, at that point, would have put us on the verge of the top 100 biggest law firms.

“The aspiration was to get to the sort of size which we felt would give us the strength and depth to offer exceptional client service, and get to sufficient size in each of the three cities so that we could really punch at our weight.

“We were effectively four years into the plan and had got to the £20 million mark and were reflecting on whether we really did mean getting to that £35 million or was it just an aspiration. And if we did mean it, how did we do it?

“Nelsons has grown through acquisition, which was how we created the Leicester and Derby offices, back in 2000, and more recently buying the Glynis Wright team in Leicester.

“But the constraint has always been access to capital and how you really drive that.

“So we had an away-day where we reflected on the legal market and thought there was likely to be more consolidation and change and thought about how we could get ourselves in position to take advantage of that.

“We didn’t know anything about private equity, to be honest, and didn’t really think it was interested in the legal sector.

“Then we got a random cold-call one day from a private equity house saying they were looking to come into the legal sector – but with a proposition that we thought didn’t make any sense for us.

“But it did get us wondering whether we could find somebody who might be willing to back the proposition we had to remain a regional presence in the East Midlands and build on what we were already doing and help accelerate the journey a bit – rather than turn us into something different.

“As we began to explore the space we took a call from Blixt and that was really how the whole thing took off.

“It was clear that our strategy was perfectly aligned with what they wanted to do which was find regional firms that they could back in exactly the kind of space in the market that we are in – SME, private individual and family legal services.

“It was quite exciting and there was a cultural synergy, with them talking about investing and creating great places to work which is just what we’ve been trying to do.

“When we first met them they had done one acquisition, and at that point they were just putting together the Lawfront team.

“What they wanted to do was back firms to be self-managed and which would maintain their brand. It’s now about finding what value they can add to the brands and finding best practice.”

He said there had been no jobs losses and no immediate plans to streamline the broader business, which was another of the things that appealed.

“It allows us to continue to manage ourselves and that’s very much the Lawfront plan.

“Day-to-day everything continues as it was and we continue to work in the same way and strive to be the best that we can.

“Over time part of the attraction of Lawfront is that they will be able to invest in ways we can’t so they will be looking at ways that they can add value and enhance the service for both the employees and the clients.

“We’ve had five years of continuous growth and published a plan to continue to grow and some of that growth will come organically – through bringing through the next generation of lawyers and bringing in key hires. But some of that will be acquiring and bringing in firms that will add and enhance the services we already offer.

“We’re positive about the future and see the opportunity to keep growing, create jobs and keep moving forward.”