Stockdale and team.
The disarray within the Metamorph group continues to wreak havoc on its staff and clients, according to multiple sources and leaked emails from within the network of firms. RollOnFriday understands the Solicitors Regulation Authority is considering taking action imminently.
Metamorph has been attempting to restructure its business by moving assets from companies which are the subject of winding up petitions to Knowles Benning, a firm it recently acquired.
Cashflow issues have plagued the group for months and staff have repeatedly been paid late.
Last week Metamorph failed to prevent the court appointing an official receiver, and the High Court made a winding up order against MLL Limited, the Metamorph entity which operates its Verisona Law, Linder Myers, SLC Solicitors, and Donnelly & Elliot Solicitors brands. As a result, staff at the affected companies - including those at the entity which provided several firms in the group with accounting, HR and payroll services - were immediately made redundant.
In an email sent last Friday, CEO and founder Tony Stockdale told staff, "to the shock of our advisors, Pinsents, at the petition hearing on MLL the judge rejected the appointment of Macintyre Hudson", the accountancy firm which was the group's preferred liquidator.
Stockdale said in the leaked email that "in my opinion after the events of this week the 'old Metamorph' is no more", and sketched out a future in which the ownership structure of the business would be changed to give staff a stake. "How this will work needs to be resolved but my own view is the employees generally should have 20%", he suggested.
Stockdale concluded, "Finally I apologise in having to write this. On Tuesday I did not expect for one moment we would be in the position we now find ourselves. I do believe a new business under different ownership, management and brand can and would work for all of you".
The remaining Metamorph staff showed a distinct lack of enthusiasm for their CEO's latest vision this Wednesday and copied in the entire group to beg Stockdale and director Simon Goldhill to make them redundant so they could obtain some kind of financial security.
"Hi Tony and Simon", wrote one unpaid lawyer. "I cannot get extensions on any of my bills due to still being employed".
"Some of us don’t have the luxury of families that can help us with our bills. Essentially if I don’t pay my landlord rent, he is going to ask me to leave and there is nothing I can do about that. I am in a situation that I could be homeless in just a few weeks!"
"Please help us out here", implored the lawyer. "Christmas is not even an issue now, I am just worried about having a place to live in a few weeks...Please show us some mercy".
Another Metamorph employee responded, "I, like many of the staff are in exactly the same predicament".
The employee told Stockdale and Goldhill, "If you do nothing else for us at least make us redundant so we can move forward, at the moment not only have we not been paid since October but we are obviously not going to be paid for December either, where does that leave us all? You are essentially playing with each and every one of us and ruining lives and messing with our mental health".
A third lawyer replied, "I echo the thoughts below but in all honesty do you care? I think not".
"Let’s roll back a few weeks when you sat on your throne of lies and spoke with the staff of [my firm] about the situation and our bright future post TUPE including that we would actually get paid!" he said.
Alleging that Stockdale had said it was "just business" in response to a query about not paying suppliers, the lawyer asked, "Is not paying your staff just business? Is making staff mentally ill and physically ill through stress just business? Is ruining families Christmas’ just business? [Is] putting staff at threat of repossession/eviction just business? The tears of children in households because parents couldn’t afford Christmas just business? To you probably".
He demanded of Stockdale, "Do the right thing and place [Knowles Benning] into admin as well so we can all at least claim from the government and maybe, somehow, limit the damage you have caused us. It may already be too late for some but it’s the least you can do. Why the hell did you transfer us to an entity that could not afford to pay us?!"
The lawyer described how it was becoming impossible to act for clients: "We have lost the vast majority if not all of finance, HR, compliance and IT. You have lost the majority of your fee earning staff and their critical support". Claiming that "the business can no longer function", he alleged that client money that should have been transferred to Knowles Benning from MLL "is now frozen leaving clients exposed...How the SRA have not intervened is beyond me!"
Stockdale joined the conversation on Wednesday to deliver the news that accountants Macintyre Hudson had replaced the official receiver. He predicted that the breakthrough would lead to an investor, whose identity he has not disclosed, injecting funds into Knowles Benning. Asked if that meant staff would be paid, Stockdale replied "I believe so", prompting one lawyer to query how that was possible, since "as I understand it, the majority of the various finance teams are redundant and have not taken up new roles".
A Metamorph lawyer confirmed to RollOnFriday that many accounts staff had declined to rejoin the firm, and that there were "only HR apprentices left who cannot help", and "no IT". The insider said that court fees could not be paid as a result, so clients were being told to pay them again direct to counsel "simply to protect their claim".
"I have now taken the decision to start advising clients that we can no longer act due to insufficient resources, but I am not sure I will be able to complete this task before my last remaining team member walks out", said the lawyer.
Staff expressed disbelief the regulator had not taken action: "Client money is stuck and we have literally no staff to work on the cases. Clients (that are agreeable) are paying twice for disbursements due to money being stuck; how can the SRA not be interested?"
An SRA spokesman told RollOnFriday, "All firms have an obligation to close in an orderly way as laid out in our guidance. If we become aware that a firm is not adhering to our rules, then we can step in".
Individuals purporting to be clients have also been in touch with RollOnFriday, some of whom used the comments section of last week's article to try to glean information about the status of their matters.
"Does anyone know what happens to client assets?" asked one. "Used a solicitor under the [Metamorph] umbrella and they were due to pay the estate funds from the probate process to me as the executor on Friday".
The impact on staff appears to have been considerable. "Mortgage defaulted on, unable to buy the children Xmas presents, borrowing money for fuel and to keep electric on and applying [for] a food bank parcel", said a Metamorph employee.
"I’ve seen colleagues reduced to tears because they can’t get an update", commented another.
"How our days look at the minute", said a third staff member: "Spending 8 hours of your day in an office with your crying colleagues and scared clients shouting down the phone at you. Relationships with referrers and clients that have been built over many of years now ruined. Over a hundred emails a day, none from Tony or the Board, just abusive comments being called a 'thief' and 'incompetent' by desperate clients".
Metamorph did not respond to a request for comment.