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Home » Ward Hadaway On The Acquisition Trail As It Targets £100m Turnover In 10 Years

Ward Hadaway On The Acquisition Trail As It Targets £100m Turnover In 10 Years

The new managing partner of Newcastle law firm Ward Hadaway says he is on the lookout for acquisition targets as part of an ambitious plan to more than double turnover.

Steven Petrie, who has been a partner at the firm for 12 years and took over from Martin Hulls in the top job earlier this month, told BusinessLive that he is looking at smaller firms between £5m-£15m turnover that could help accelerate Ward Hadaway towards £100m turnover by 2034, from its current position of £45m. With agents having already identified some targets, the approach could see the firm expand beyond its Newcastle, Leeds and Manchester bases into new territories.

Mr Petrie said future acquisitions could also help the firm grow its market share in Leeds and Manchester, where he described it as a medium-sized player with a smaller market position than in the North East. Both the larger Yorkshire and North West legal markets are seen as fertile ground for Ward Hadaway, which was set up in 1988 and last year reported operating profits of £12.28m.

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Explaining the firm’s desire to remain independent, Mr Petrie, who first joined Ward Hadaway in 2012 as part of its insolvency team, said: “We’ve been growing at a significant rate during Covid – between 7-9% for the last four or five years. We see that with a strong wind and a little bit of a push we believe that we can continue to grow at 10% for the next five years. Now, we’re approaching £50m turnover so to increase by 10% each year between now and 2029 should get us to £75m and from there to 2034 we believe we’ll get to that £100m.

“We’re going to do that by a few things: some organic growth, including quality people we’re bringing through the firm from solicitor apprenticeships, the trainee programme which has seen 100% retention in recent years and also huge success in our lateral hires. We pride ourselves on the quality of our people and I know a lot of people say that, but we genuinely do.”

Ward Hadaway employs nearly 500 people and while headcount is expected to grow to facilitate the financial growth, Mr Petrie said the firm is not looking to acquire large volume businesses that come with lots of legal staff. Focus will continue on selling services to owner-managed SMEs, while there has also been growth in the firm’s disputes, employment and property teams over the past few years as well as potential in its public sector team which was said to be benefiting instructions surrounding maturing PFI contracts.

A recent report from LawtechUK, a Ministry of Justice (MoJ) backed initiative, which looks at digital transformation in the legal sector pointed to the role North East firms have to play in the market. Mr Petrie explained Ward Hadaway is making efforts in that area.

He said: “We’ve set up an artificial intelligence (AI) and innovation group and that consists not just of all the legal departments but some of the business services teams as well. For instance, we’ve got the accountants team looking at practice management systems, we’ve got the marketing team looking at CRM systems and then we’ve got corporate commercial teams looking at things like what AI is available. For example, you can have a lawyer reading a 50-page contract, and it could take a couple of hours, whereas AI could now do that in 30 seconds.

“We’re trialling a couple of systems at the moment, one for commercial contracts and one for corporate proof reading of documents as well.” He added: “I think if you’d asked me 10 years ago where we’d be, I’d have said where we are now. But I think in another 10 years the landscape will be totally different.”

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