A MAJOR Sheffield law firm has been hit by a "bombshell" after most of its senior staff announced they are walking out to set up an office for a rival company.
Former Sheffield businesswoman of the year Suzanne Liversidge, and seven other partners, are quitting Halliwells and taking 45 other lawyers and around 20 support staff with them.
Ms Liversidge, who launched Manchester-based Halliwells' operation in Sheffield 12 years ago, will now head a new Sheffield office for insurance law specialist Kennedys.
London-based Kennedys says Ms Liversidge will be joined by Halliwells partners David Fearon, Judith Bloor, Helen Snowball, Cameron Clark, Niall Edwards, Greg Woods and Heidi Swale.
Halliwells confirmed a team of insurance lawyers is leaving to join Kennedys.
Neil Thompson, corporate partner in Halliwells' Sheffield office, said: "We've all been taken by surprise. It was a bombshell – and there is a degree of resentment because of the way it was done.
"We must have 110 people in this office and possibly 65 are affected."
But he said: "Halliwells is very much committed to Sheffield and I think we will find that some of the people who have put down to be with Kennedys don't end up going."
The decision of the insurance team to move to Kennedys could also have an impact on Halliwells' plans to relocate from their City Plaza office to Sheffield's Digital Campus.
Ms Liversidge, who was named the city's businesswoman of the year in 2007 and 2008 and is in line to be Sheffield Chamber of Commerce's first female president in 2011, has built up the City Plaza office into one of the leading players in the city's commercial law sector.
Nick Thomas, senior partner at Kennedys, confirmed: "We are moving into Sheffield because it is a corner of Britain where we don't have a foothold. We have been looking actively to find somewhere east of the Pennines – Sheffield or Leeds – and some very, very good people became available.
"We will be delighted to welcome an excellent team with such strong reputations.
"They will be an integral part of the national service Kennedys offers to our clients. This development underscores our significant commitment to servicing the insurance industry."
Mr Thomas, who was born in Chesterfield, said while Kennedys focuses on insurance law it has related expertise in construction, property and dispute resolution and, after its Sheffield operation is established, it hopes to expand to offer services to clients in those sectors too.
Kennedys' new Sheffield operation will be launched officially once negotiations with Halliwells have been completed.
Halliwells, which counts Sheffield United among its biggest clients, is reported to have seen revenues fall by 16 per cent in the first six months of its current financial year.
A spokesperson for the firm said: "Halliwells retains a strong multi-disciplinary practice in Sheffield covering insurance and healthcare, corporate, real estate, employment and construction."
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