Freeths, a top 50 law firm with 12 offices across the country, is proud that its national hospitality team, based in Milton Keynes, works with household names across the UK.
The firm has a long-standing relationship with Wells & Co, family brewer and pub company based in Bedford, as well as Carlsberg Marston’s Brewing Company in Northampton and the country’s largest specialist operator of late night bars and clubs, REKOM whose head office is in MK. The team also act for locally based pub companies Peach (recently sold to Revolution Bars), McManus and McMullens, to name but a few.
It all started in 1986 when former Partner Peter Holden and his ex-city colleagues set up a law firm in MK, Kimbell & Co. Peter had a longstanding interest in the brewing industry and acted for one of the biggest sector names at the time, Scottish & Newcastle. And so the ‘Brewing’ team was born. Its current head, Leo Skinner, joined the team in 1999.
With a passion for the hospitality industry, the team set about growing the sector client base, spreading out the focus by acting for all operators in the wider sector, including coffee shops, hotels, coaching inns, late night venues, restaurants and bars, and leisure operators such as ten pin bowling, ultimately developing into the industry-leading national Freeths Drinks, Hospitality & Leisure team.
One of the first (and still one of the only) law firms to be truly embedded in the sector, the lawyers understand the issues affecting clients on a daily basis at both strategic and operational level. This knowledge and passion has led to long-standing relationships with clients in the sector, many of whom continue to instruct the team as they move from business to business within the sector.
It goes without saying that the last few years have been particularly challenging for the hospitality sector. Still battling the ongoing implications of Brexit, the Covid pandemic and issues around rent arrears, amongst other issues, the sector is now dealing with huge rises in energy costs and an ongoing staffing crisis.
The Freeths team is able to leverage its long-standing relationships and deep understanding of the sector to advise clients on how to navigate these challenges and spot any opportunities, including using cross office teams to advise on issues such as technology and sustainability.
Meet the local team
Leo Skinner, who has headed up the Drinks Hospitality & Leisure team since 2002, based in Milton Keynes, was already an industry specialist following his formative years acting for Bass and Scottish & Newcastle Retail.
The team these days is made up of more than 35 solicitors across the Freeths network of offices in England and Scotland who are delivering a bespoke service to the sector. Leo’s practice encompasses acting for operators of all forms of licensed premises operating in all day parts including hotels, pubs, clubs, late night venues, bars, restaurants (including quick service restaurants) on the high street, in leisure parks and drive-thru locations, as well as family dining and casual dining restaurants. He has an enviable national client list including the likes of Burger King, for which the team has acquired over 150 sites in four years.
Leo said: “The key for me is understanding a client’s needs – the commercial drivers requiring a site to open on time, the importance of getting the right terms in an agreement and the value of protecting a brand. At Freeths we focus on the commercial and operational imperatives to provide a practical solutions focussed service and cut through all the legal jargon.”
Chris Ainsworth who started with Freeths as a paralegal in 1996 and subsequently trained as a solicitor with the firm has been a partner in the team since 2008. Chris specialises largely in property acquisitions, disposals, volume letting and estate management work for hotel operators, pub companies, restaurant groups and brewers. He advises national and regional brewers and pub companies on competition issues and the regulatory framework, including the statutory code for tied pub estates. Chris has acted on the acquisition of distressed business assets out of pre-pack administration and sales from administrators. He has also advised on the property aspects of securitisations/ refinancings for a wide range of hospitality businesses.
Chris said: “We have seen the Freeths Drinks Hospitality & Leisure team go from strength to strength over the last 10 years. Originally based in MK we are now a national team with a full service off ering to clients across the country.”
Natalie Drought joined Freeths in 2004 and has nearly 20 years’ experience in the drinks, hospitality and leisure sector. Natalie uses her experience to advise hotels, restaurant chains, pubs and leisure providers on corporate and commercial matters, including M&A (solvent & insolvent), restructuring and commercial contracts.
Mark Brown leads the Real Estate Litigation team in Milton Keynes which consists of four lawyers, all of whom are very active in the leisure sector. Mark himself has a substantial litigation and arbitration practice with specialisms in the leisure sector, where he is sought out by clients to act for them in Pubs Code arbitrations, Asset of Community Value matters, contested lease renewal proceedings, dilapidations claims and forfeiture proceedings. Some of his cases have gone all the way to the Court of Appeal and been reported in the national as well as local press.
The firm has seen the move to hybrid working since the pandemic as a real opportunity to attract talent to the hospitality team. Like the hospitality sector, the team is entrepreneurial, embraces challenge and seizes opportunities to evolve. Freeths is an industry leader in the hospitality sector. Chris Ainsworth added: “We are active members of UKHospitality and have hosted events with Kate Nicholls OBE, CEO of UKH as speaker. We sponsor Peach 2020, the conference for industry leaders and infl uencers, as well as attending all major industry events and awards. We feel we are truly part of this highly resilient sector that the country is rightly proud of.”