The Legal 500 is an annual survey of UK and international law firms. It is based on research carried out throughout the year by the Legal 500’s own researchers.
The research is done using a combination of interviews with chief executives, managing and senior partners of law firms and practice managers, and by asking clients for feedback on the lawyers they instruct. In addition, the researchers also receive unsolicited comments and recommendations.
The comments and assessments reproduced here arise from that research. They are not our own independent assessment of the legal sector in Wales.
The Legal 500 is a comprehensive survey covering all aspects of the law. For reasons of space we have selected just a few sections that we feel will be of particular relevance to Walesonline readers.
We have excluded, among others, sections dealing with commercial property, debt recovery, insurance, health and safety, agriculture and estates, the public sector and charities, media and sport. Law firms specialising in these areas are therefore unlikely to appear here and readers who are interested in them should visit the Legal 500.
It is not possible for us to check everything that is reproduced below. We apologise in advance for any information that is incorrect or out of date.
These are edited extracts of the Wales chapter in this year’s Legal 500. For the full text, visit the Legal 500.
Cardiff: The ‘very strong’ team at Hugh James provides an ‘effective and high-quality service’ to a client base that includes numerous high-net-worth individuals (including several well-known sports personalities). ‘Very knowledgeable’ boutique family law firm Wendy Hopkins Family Law Practice fields a ‘strong team of lawyers’ with expertise across the spectrum of matters including high-value cases with assets often spread across multiple jurisdictions. Since its inception in June 2014, Gordon Dadds LLP’s family law department has flourished, in no small part due to the ‘formidable reputation’ of team head Wendy Hopkins.
Fielding two practitioners in Cardiff and one in Caerphilly, Howells Solicitors ‘really does punch above its weight’ and provides an ‘excellent service’ on everything from public/private child law matters to highnet-worth divorces.
Woolley & Co Solicitors’ Cardiff-based team head Kathryn McTaggart has a ‘market-leading’ reputation for family law matters, with particular emphasis on cases involving children, including abduction and matters involving implacable hostility/parental alienation
The arrival in December 2016 of leading local family law practitioner Gaynor Dickens from Swansea firm Graham Evans & Partners has given Geldards LLP’s nascent family strength in the south Wales region.
South and mid Wales: ‘Highly regarded in the community’, Neath-based firm Hutchinson Thomas ‘has an excellent and well-deserved reputation in the market for family law work’.
Led out of its Bridgend office by the ‘excellent’ Katie McColgan, Berry Smith’s practice handles the full spectrum of private client family law work, including high-value divorce proceedings, pre-nuptial drafting and childcare disputes.
Acting for clients from south Wales, as well as the West Country and London, Newport-based firm Harding Evans LLP specialises in high-value complex applications for financial orders in divorces, which often involve a wide array of assets including family companies, foreign properties, farms and varied pension funds.
Matthew Wells now leads the five-lawyer team at JCP Solicitors, which has ‘sound knowledge in the field’ and provides a ‘supportive service and a direct clear path forward’ to clients engaged in divorce proceedings.
Led by Catrin Griffiths, Red Kite Law LLP has a strong reputation among clients in west Wales and handles work across the spectrum of family law, including contact issues and pre-nuptial agreements.
With offices in Newport, Pontypool and Cardiff, Watkins & Gunn Solicitors provides a ‘superb family law service’ to clients in south Wales and covers the waterfront of matters, from large and small money divorce cases, to complex contact cases.
Harrisons Solicitors LLP has a strong reputation in mid-Wales across the panoply of family law matters – including in relation to complex financial arrangements following divorce – as well as child law cases.
Personal injury: claimant
Clients of Hugh James’ ‘very conscientious and absolutely committed’ team feel it ‘stands way above the crowd’. With 19 partners dedicated to this area, the team has the strength-in-depth to be able to provide an ‘absolutely first-class service to claimants’ and coverage across the gamut of claims, including multiparty actions and matters involving industrial disease and sexual abuse.
With 40 solicitors based in the firm’s Cardiff office, NewLaw Solicitors has the critical mass to handle a high volume of matters and is particularly strong at handling road traffic accident (RTA) claims for insurers.
With offices in Cardiff and Wrexham, Slater and Gordon has significant market visibility in both north and south Wales, and is well-versed in dealing with complex and high-value personal injury claims, as well as asbestos litigation.
Leveraging its deeply embedded trade union relationships with clients including Unite the Union, Unison, Rail and Maritime Workers Union, and Fire Brigade Union, Thompsons Solicitors LLP is noted for its ‘excellent work’ across the spectrum of personal injury cases, ranging from low-value matters to those of the utmost severity.
Although it can handle claimant personal injury work of all kinds, the ‘highly competent’ team at JCP Solicitors specialises in high-value catastrophic cases arising from brain and spinal injuries.
Mackenzie Jones Solicitors has a strong reputation in north and mid-Wales and provides an ‘excellent service’ to clients across the spectrum of personal injury claims, with a particular focus on high-value and complex cases.
The ‘very knowledgeable, experienced and industry savvy’ team at Simpson Millar LLP ‘serves its personal injury clients very well’. ‘Very experienced’ team head Phillip Gower ‘is extremely knowledgeable in the personal injuries and disease fields’, and specialises in asbestosrelated injuries, among other industrial disease claims.
With offices in Newport, Pontypool and Cardiff, Watkins & Gunn Solicitors has a strong presence in southeast Wales and is active across the gamut of multi-track and fast- track personal injury claims, including those relating to RTA incidents, disease cases and holiday claims. While Dolmans is best known for its defendant practice, it does handle claimant-side personal injury work, where clients view it as ‘equal in quality to its competitors, notwithstanding its size’.
GHP Legal provides a ‘very intimate and individualised service’ on everything from small claims to more complex multi-track cases, including major psychiatric injury cases and brain injury cases.
Led by Andrew Christie, Harding Evans LLP’s threestrong team has capacity across the spectrum of personal injury claims including fatal and catastrophic accidents, occupational diseases and RTAs.
Cardiff: Eversheds Sutherland (International) LLP’s four-partner employment team in Cardiff provides a ‘market-leading’ service to local and international corporates.
Led by Joanne Davies, Blake Morgan LLP’s four-partner practice advises public and private sector clients on a range of matters, including the developing area of equal pay claims and occupational pension schemes.
Praised for its ‘innovative and proactive approach’, Capital Law LLP provides ‘commercial and focused advice’ to private sector clients from a broad range of industry sectors, including education, manufacturing, transport and retail.
Geldards LLP fields a ‘responsive and professional’ four-partner team that is appreciated by clients for its ‘up-to-date industry knowledge’, particularly when it comes to public sector employment issues.
Headed by the ‘knowledgeable’ Emma Burns and recently enhanced by the arrival of several employment lawyers, including litigation expert Chris Mayers, following the merger in November 2016 with MLM Cartwright, the three-partner team at Hugh James has significant strength in depth across contentious and non-contentious matters, including complex areas such as collective labour law, equal pay, TUPE and pensions.
Clients of Lewis Silkin LLP’s eight-lawyer team in Cardiff rate its ‘highly effective and value-for-money service’ and praise its ability to ‘provide a balanced perspective, which takes into account the commercial aspects as well as the employee perspective’. Well tapped into the local business community as a result of its ‘very accessible and personable approach’, Berry Smith’s five-strong team provides ‘prompt and sensible advice’, primarily to owner-managed businesses and SMEs across the gamut of employment issues affecting their businesses.
Praised for its ‘outstanding level of service’, Darwin Gray LLP’s seven-strong team provides a ‘professional and very supportive service’ to a growing number of local and national corporates, who value its ‘in-depth knowledge of human resources matters’.
The ‘formidable’ eight-lawyer team at Slater and Gordon provides ‘an outstanding service’ to an exclusively claimant client base, which includes private clients and trade unions.
Acuity Legal Limited’s four-lawyer team provides ‘sound legal and commercially driven advice’ across a range of employment matters, including those associated with corporate transactions such as TUPE issues.
‘A superb example of what a specialist boutique firm should be’, Morgan Denton Jones provides ‘high-level employment law expertise’ and is ‘truly committed to achieving the best results for the client’.
Since the arrival of ‘personable’ team head Nathan Vidini in January 2016, Howells Solicitors’ employment group has gained significant traction in the market.
At boutique employment law firm Refreshing Law, ‘very approachable and knowledgeable’ founding partner Anna Denton-Jones provides ‘responsive, clear and practical advice’ to employers and employees, covering a range of non-contentious and contentious matters including negotiating exit terms for senior executives.
At Thompson Darwin Limited, the ‘excellent’ Bethan Darwin has a particularly strong reputation acting for directors and senior executives on non-executive director contracts and share options, among other employment issues.
Elsewhere in Wales: Harding Evans LLP’s three-lawyer team provides an ‘excellent’ service across a range of contentious and non-contentious employment issues, with team head Daniel Wilde singled out for his expertise in matters relating to trade unions, employee relations and restrictive covenants.
At JCP Solicitors, team head Paul Shuttleworth has a strong reputation in the local market and acts on behalf of both employers and employees across a broad spectrum of contentious and non-contentious issues, including TUPE matters (such as second generation contracting out and insourcing) and complex disability claims.
Headed by the ‘vastly experienced and knowledgeable’ Timothy Jones out of Swansea, Morgan LaRoche provides an ‘excellent service’ to an employer-focused client roster, for which it handles both contentious and non-contentious matters.
Now led by ‘very professional, honest and open-minded’ associate Joanne James following the recent departure of former team head Hannah Dahill to Morgan LaRoche, Red Kite Law LLP retains strong ties with many the local corporates in the west Wales region, which are appreciative of the firm’s ‘flexibility, high standards of professionalism and client care’.
Swansea-based firm Douglas-Jones Mercer has a strong reputation in the south west Wales region, where it acts for local entities, and also advises corporate clients whose reach extends well beyond the local region.
Wrexham-based firm GHP Legal has a strong reputation in north Wales and provides ‘excellent advice’ to employers and employees across a broad spectrum of employment disputes, including unfair dismissal claims and all forms of discrimination cases.
A mainstay of the market in mid Wales, Harrisons Solicitors LLP represent local businesses and individuals in a range of employment issues, including drafting employment contracts for businesses and acting for employees in unfair dismissal, discrimination and redundancy scenarios.
At Hutchinson Thomas, team head Simon Thomas acts for both employees and employers, and also handles a significant amount of referral work from other local solicitors.
Since its foundation at the beginning of 2016, boutique sole practitioner employment firm Slate Legal has made a strong impression in the market, with clients appreciative of its ability to provide ‘cost-effective advice’.
For some, Duncan Lewis Solicitors is ‘in a class of its own’. The Cardiff office has become an integral part of the firm’s UK-wide capability, which includes a large legal aid immigration practice and a market-leading reputation for immigration judicial review matters.
Sitting within the firm’s broader employment group, Capital Law LLP’s immigration offering provides a ‘responsive and very knowledgeable service’. Eversheds Sutherland (International) LLP regularly advises education sector clients, including independent schools, universities and further education colleges, on immigration matters.
With practitioners based out of Newport, Cardiff and Swansea, the ‘very experienced and helpful’ team at niche immigration firm NLS Solicitors has the strengthin- depth to handle a tremendous volume and range of privately funded and legal aid work.
Planning and environment
One of the few teams in Wales to have a standalone planning team, Eversheds Sutherland (International) LLP provides a ‘responsive and excellent service’ to national and international clients, with particular expertise in planning matters within the transport and renewable energy sectors.
Acuity Legal Limited provides a ‘prompt and commercially aware’ service on planning matters, acting in conjunction with its ‘top-notch’ commercial property practice, as well as on standalone planning matters from the private and public sectors.
Geldards LLP has longstanding expertise representing public utilities, private developers and public sector entities (including central government, local authorities and regulatory authorities) on major projects.
Tapping into the expertise of practitioners from across its property, construction and litigation groups, Hugh James’ multi-disciplinary planning and environment practice handles transactional, regulatory and contentious work for an impressive roster of clients including Welsh Water, The Crown Estate, Cardiff University and Curo Enterprise.
Darwin Gray LLP regularly handles planning work as an adjunct to the firm’s commercial property offering. Donald Gray is well-versed in an array of planning matters and also benefits from a specialist knowledge of the Welsh mining industry, particularly with regard to the granting of licences from the Coal Authority and landowners, the acquisition of compulsory rights, and environmental and production issues.
Personal tax, trusts and probate
‘Unmatched in Wales’, Hugh James’ six-partner wealth management team provides ‘London standards of service from Cardiff’, and has the strength-in-depth to provide practitioners with expertise across the spectrum of private client work.
The departure of former head of the succession and tax team Awen Mellick notwithstanding, Blake Morgan LLP maintains a significant private client offering through associate Nicky Sherrard and new recruit Charlene Davies-Williams, who joined in February 2017 from Martyn Prowel Solicitors.
Substantially reorganised since the departure of Helen Downes, Geldards LLP’s offering is now split into two sub-groups: one dedicated to wealth preservation and succession planning, and the other focusing on trust and estate administration.
Active across the spectrum of private client work, Douglas-Jones Mercer’s four-strong team has a strong reputation among clients in south Wales; as well as receiving direct instructions from clients, it also takes on a considerable number of referrals from local independent financial advisers (IFAs).
The ‘responsive and commercial’ team at Howells Solicitors has a ‘real ability to think outside the box’, enabling it to provide particular value to clients on complex estate planning matters.
The ‘responsive’ team at Hutchinson Thomas provides ‘well-considered, accurate and prudent advice’ across the spectrum of private client work, including the preparation of wills, trust deeds, estate administration, Court of Protection applications, and powers of attorney.
The ‘responsive and knowledgeable’ four-partner team at JCP Solicitors provides a ‘first-class service’ to clients across the spectrum of work ranging from wills drafting, advising high-net-worth individuals on tax planning and trust advice, and the administration of estates.
NewLaw Solicitors provides a fixed-fee service to a growing roster of clients across a range of tax and estate planning matters, including the preparation of wills, as well as handling complex matters relating to domicile issues and assets abroad.
Red Kite Law LLP provides a bespoke service based on the individual needs of each client and is well-versed in providing creative solutions to those wishing to minimize their inheritance tax liabilities through, among other strategies, lifetime gifts and astute succession planning.
At Berry Smith, team head Chris Beames regularly assists families with complex estates, often involving capital tax advice, as well as handling Court of Protection work for vulnerable clients.
A ‘go-to-firm for general crime and cases of the upmost complexity’, Blackfords LLP’s ‘detailed case preparation and client focus sets it apart’.
Well regarded for general crime’, Bowden Jones Solicitors’ expertise runs the gamut of work from minor traffic offences through to large-scale international drugs conspiracies and fraud, and is also noted as being ‘excellent at homicide and serious sexual offences defence work’.
For some, GHP Legal is ‘the standout criminal and regulatory defence firm in north east Wales and the Shropshire borders’, with ‘strength-in-depth and an unrivalled experience in serious crime, including murder and complex cases of historic sexual abuse’.
Newport-based Harding Evans LLP has a strong reputation across an array of criminal defence work including murder, serious sexual offences, drugs conspiracies and fraud.
‘One of the foremost criminal law firms in Wales’, Hutton’s provides a ‘first-class service’ to clients in a wide range of cases, ranging from straightforward motoring matters, through to issues of the utmost severity including murder and serious sexual offences.
The ‘hardworking, diligent and thoughtful’ team at de Maids Solicitors & Advocates has an ‘outstanding reputation in south Wales’ and is ‘wellequipped to handle all levels of crime, right up to the most serious sexual abuse and homicide’.
Based out of Cardiff, ‘outstanding criminal firm’ M & M Solicitors enjoys a strong reputation nationally for serious fraud work and complex crime.
‘At the very top of the local criminal defence firms’, Martyn Prowel Solicitors has a longstanding reputation as ‘a safe pair of hands’, with expertise in a wide range of cases including serious and organised crime and historical sexual abuse.
Now strengthened by the recent move of Ian Wilson from the firm’s Bristol office, Slater and Gordon’s three-strong team has increased strength in depth across the firm’s core area of expertise representing the Police Federation facing criminal investigations and misconduct proceedings.
Led out of the firm’s Pontypool office, Watkins & Gunn Solicitors has a strong reputation across an array of general crime matters including road traffic offences, fraud and sexual offences.
Corporate and commercial
Cardiff and south Wales: Led by Steve Berry, Acuity Legal Limited’s six-partner team attracts praise for its ‘prompt and value-for-money service’.
Led by the ‘very strong and commercial’ Robert Cherry, and aided by a ‘talented and experienced group of lawyers’, Blake Morgan LLP’s two-partner team provides a ‘responsive and professional’ service to clients from a range of industry sectors.
The ‘very strong and commercial’ five-partner team at Capital Law LLP ‘punches above its weight’ and provides a ‘client-friendly and pragmatic service’ across a range of corporate and commercial matters, to businesses of all sizes – from start-ups to large corporates.
With three partners based in Cardiff and also benefiting from an extensive network of offices in the UK and internationally, Eversheds Sutherland (International) LLP excels at handling big-ticket strategic deals, predominantly outside of Wales.
Led on the corporate front by Andrew Morris and on the commercial side by Ceri Delemore, Geldards LLP provides a ‘highly professional and skilled service’ to private, public and third sector clients from a broad array of industry sectors including gaming, manufacturing and healthcare.
Enhanced by its merger with MLM Cartwright in November 2016, Hugh James has one of the largest standalone corporate and commercial departments in the country, with seven partners providing expertise across strategic and private equity-led M&A, venture capital investments, and commercial contracts including shareholder and distribution agreements.
Berry Smith provides ‘skilful, knowledgeable and practical advice’ to a loyal roster of largely owner-managed and SME clients across a range of ongoing commercial matters, as well as transactional mandates.
Boutique corporate and commercial law firm Greenaway Scott specialises in transactions within the life sciences, healthcare, technology and IT sectors, where it is able to provide added value by virtue of the fact that several of the firm’s lawyers have additional science or IP qualifications.
Based out of the firm’s Swansea office, JCP Solicitors’ three-partner team has significant market recognition amongst clients in south west Wales and provides an ‘excellent service’ across a range of industry sectors including healthcare, energy, manufacturing and retail.
Led by the ‘experienced and approachable’ William Barletta, Morgan LaRoche’s four-partner team has strong visibility in the south and west of Wales, where it acts on behalf of start-ups and SMEs.
In addition to the firm’s core commercial workload, which includes franchising and partnership law advice, Darwin Gray LLP continues to grow its roster of transactional work for sole traders, start-ups and larger UK and international-based corporates.
The ‘commercially astute’ team at Douglas-Jones Mercer provides an ‘exemplary level of service’ to local owner-managed businesses and SMEs.
West Wales firm Red Kite Law LLP is viewed as a ‘safe pair of hands’ and handles a range of transactional and commercial work for SMEs and owner-managed businesses in the region.
Despite the recent departure of associate Jennifer Cottle, who joined Capital Law LLP in September 2016, Dolmans still fields a number of practitioners who handle corporate and commercial work.
Headed by Mike Jenkins, Newport-based firm Harding Evans LLP’s two-lawyer team has a particularly accomplished reputation in the technology sector, where it acts for start-ups and has strong links with business incubator Welsh ICE.
North and mid Wales: Headed by John Price out of the firm’s Abergavenny office, Gabb and Co’s corporate and commercial team handles a range of corporate and commercial work, including M&A transactions, JV structuring, shareholder agreement drafting and share buybacks, for SME clients.
Harrisons Solicitors LLP attracts praise for its ‘sound and practical advice’. The firm advises on commercial and transactional matters for a range of owner-managed businesses and SMEs based in Powys, mid Wales and the Shropshire borders.