One of Doncaster’s biggest law firms is on the verge of going into administration after getting into financial difficulties over unpaid taxes, putting jobs at risk.
Buyers are being sought to take on Atteys, which admits it is suffering from ‘continuing financial pressures’ believed to be caused by the economic downturn.
Last week HM Revenue and Customs staff took ‘walking possession’ of goods at their offices because the company’s VAT bill had not been paid on time, says the man brought in to try to find a buyer for the company.
Atteys employs 140 staff across South Yorkshire and North Nottinghamshire.
The firm started life in Cleveland Street around 50 years ago as Attey, Bower and Jones but all the original partners have since left or retired.
Over the years Atteys has expanded by setting up branches in Sheffield, Barnsley, Wath-upon-Dearne and Retford, and has taken over other Doncaster legal practices, such as Richmonds.
A few years ago its criminal law department split off and set up around the corner as HDH Law.
Since then Atteys has concentrated on family law, conveyancing, will writing, personal injury, commercial, employment, property and landlord and tenant disputes.
In a statement the company said: “As a result of continuing financial pressures, Atteys has engaged BDO in Leeds to assist in looking for a buyer so the firm can continue to service clients and preserve jobs.”
Andy Tuke, the firm’s financial director, added: “To allow the process to be conducted in an appropriate way, the company has given notice of intention to appoint administrators, but the company is not currently in administration.
“Staff are being consulted about their future and we very much hope we will be able to preserve most jobs.
“It’s currently business as usual as far as our clients are concerned, and we are working closely with the Solicitors Regulation Authority to ensure all their interests are properly safeguarded.”
Chief executive Charles Glover has stood down and the day-to-day running of the business has been taken over by legal consultant Mark Feeney, who is trying to sell the business.
Referring to the HMRC actions, Mr Feeney said it was ‘a very sad and ridiculous situation’.
He stressed there was no risk to clients and Atteys were in daily consultation with the regulators but admitted staff were ‘obviously unsettled’.
But he pointed out 60 other law firms had already expressed interest in aspects of the business and were keen to take on staff.
“Few, if any, will lose their jobs,” he insisted. “It’s not a great situation but the regulator is happy with the way we are handling it. I don’t understand why HMRC decided to do what they did.
“Everyone thinks lawyers are making money hand-over-fist but it’s not true. Law firms have been really struggling with the property market as it is. It’s been really tough.”
A spokesman for the SRA said: “We have been engaging with the firm and all those involved with its future.
“In 2011 Atteys were the only legal firm in South Yorkshire to win an award at the Yorkshire Lawyer Awards and were also shortlisted last year.
“Our concern is for the clients of Atteys, and we will continue to talk to all parties to ensure their interests are protected.”