Spencer West enters three new European markets

Fast-growing UK alternative law firm sets up shop in Germany, Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands

John McMahon (l) and Artur Bunk Images courtesy of Spencer West

UK alternative law firm Spencer West, which deploys a fee sharing model, has expanded into new markets in Germany, Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands through the hire of local partners.

The moves mark the latest expansion for the rapidly-growing firm, which since 2018 has gone from housing London-based founding partners Antoine West and Simeon Spencer to a team of more than 120 partners across a network of 17 UK and international locations.

According to research published by rival firm arch.law, Spencer West was the second-fastest growing fee sharing firm in 2022, and is one of four UK-based practices to operate overseas, alongside arch.law, Keystone Law and Gunner Cooke.

In Germany, Spencer West has signed up a three-partner team led by restructuring specialist Dr Artur Bunk to open an office in Frankfurt focused on advising mid-market businesses and undertaking cross-border work.

Meantime in Northern Ireland the firm has formed an association with Belfast commercial law firm McMahon McKay and in the Channel Islands has brought in a team from local practice Collas Crill to develop an international offshore hub.

“These are markets primed for ALF [alternative law firm] expansion and we intend to be at the vanguard of the change,” said West. “Lawyers are tiring of old-fashioned models and are looking for the chance to run their own practices and keep more of the proceeds they generate.”

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Under the fee sharing model, lawyers typically operate as independent consultants, paying a proportion of their fees for services provided by the firm, including infrastructure and marketing. These firms often also operate a distributed model, operating as virtual law firms. 

Spencer West said it had onboarded 16 partners so far this year and expects to sign up more in the coming months.

The firm’s Frankfurt base will be led by Bunk, who brings extensive cross-border experience from previous roles including as VP of restructuring for German bank KfW. Making up the rest of the team is corporate and commercial lawyer Damian Wypior, and IP and unfair competition specialist Vanessa Lichter.

Bunk, who is also qualified in Poland, said: “Ours is an offering suited to the mid-market, owner-managed family businesses that aren’t getting the service they want from bigger firms. These businesses don’t have the time to teach more junior advisers about their business, markets and cross-border trade.

“Our model enables them to have direct access to the senior advisers they want, with the business and strategic experience they expect and crucially, the ability to offer a personal, agile service.”

He added: “There’s currently a lack of lawyers in the Central European market who can work with mid-market, cross border businesses. That’s a gap we can and will fill, and we expect to see more cross-border lawyers joining us in the very near future.”

In Northern Ireland, the firm’s newly-formed association with McMahon McKay will see the firm operate from its existing Belfast offices as ‘McMahon McKay in association with Spencer West’. Dual-qualified founder John McMahon has also joined Spencer West as a partner along with an associate.

Spencer and West said they expect to see continued rapid growth across all 11 of Spencer West’s jurisdictions, but in the German market in particular, which they described as “ideally suited” to the ALF model.

“We’re already the fastest-growing ALF in the UK – and we anticipate replicating that very quickly in Germany,” West said. “There’s a gathering momentum away from traditional firms to newer models offering greater flexibility, control and returns, not just in Germany but in other markets too, where we are seeing interest in joining us.

“The advantage we have is the ability to offer the compliance and marketing support lawyers need, enabling them to work collaboratively with our growing team of partners in multiple jurisdictions internationally to deliver excellent client service and win more business.”

The arch.law research found that the number of lawyers working at fee-share law firms in the UK had increased by 45% in the three years to 2022, rising to 2,792.

Last September, UK-listed Keystone Law, the UK's largest fee sharing firm, reported a 9.3% increase in revenue to £36.8m against a 2.5% dip in profit-before-tax to £4.5m for the first half of the financial year. 

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