Urge to merge hits law firms across the land

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6 October 2014


The Dutton Gregory/RWPS merger

A further series of mergers around the country have been announced as consolidation in the legal market continues to take hold.

There is usually a rush of mergers each year timed to coincide with the 30 September deadline to renew professional indemnity insurance, and last week we reported on several other deals.

South-coast practice Dutton Gregory has grown its Dorset practice by merging with Poole-based RWPS Law to create a firm of 21 partners – including four from RWPS – and a total staff of 150. In 2009 RWPS co-founder Nick Hanning was the first chartered legal executive in the country to become a partner.

Dutton Gregory’s chairman, Andrew Tilley, said “We believe in building a business around great people and RWPS Law follows the same ethos. Dutton Gregory has clients nationally, although the majority of those are in the South and South East. Expansion in Dorset was therefore very important to us, giving us stronger representation throughout the South West.”

Jo Gatehouse, a partner at RWPS Law, added: “We already have a great client following in Poole; by combining forces with Dutton Gregory, we will be able to offer our existing and future clients more services and expertise.”

In the neighbouring county, south Devon law firm Wollen Michelmore has gone ‘county-wide’ by joining forces with Chanter Ferguson, a north Devon firm with offices in Bideford and Barnstaple.

The deal grows Wollen Michelmore to 16 partners and 135 staff, with offices in Torquay, Paignton, Dartmouth, Newton Abbot, Barnstaple and Bideford.

Wollen Michelmore was only created three years from the merger of Hooper & Wollen and Harold Michelmore, and earlier this year it acquired the Torquay practice of Lee-Barber, Goodrich & Co.

Wollen Michelmore CEO Chris Hart said: “While this is a new geographical area for us, our values remain the same, and indeed the same as Chanter Ferguson have always held. Friendly, approachable and professional lawyers working from local offices in the centre of towns, which enable us to build strong relationships with our clients at the same time as offering them a high quality, nationally-recognised service.”

Chanter Ferguson senior partner Rod Mole – who represents Devon on the Law Society council – said: “We will be able to continue to offer our existing clients the same familiar faces and quality of work in property, wills, probate, litigation and family law, while expanding into new areas of work by drawing on Wollen Michelmore’s wider areas of expertise.”

Fast-growing Yorkshire-based law firm and alternative business structure Newtons – which started in founder Chris Newton’s garden shed in 2009 – has opened its ninth office after acquiring Thorp Parker in Stokesley, north Yorkshire.

Thorp Parker, which opened in 1978 and has a £700,000 turnover, currently offers commercial and company law, property law, trusts, wills and probate, through a team of four solicitors. The renamed Thorp Parker Newtons will start to offer additional services, including litigation and family law, through the Newtons Solicitors group.

Newtons now has 15 LLP members and directors, and more than 70 staff in total, turning over £3.7m.

Mr Newton said: “Thorp Parker is an incredibly strong business and will strengthen our commercial client base in North Yorkshire while we will be able to help with the burden of practice management and provide support and wider legal services to the local community through our regional group of solicitors.”

Six-partner Humberside firm Pepperells has acquired long-standing Hull practice Myer Wolff, with the 17 new fee-earners taking the Scunthorpe and Hull practice to a headcount of around 100. Pepperells entered Hull in 2009 after taking over Ivesons. Myer Woolf senior partner Tim Durkin has become a consultant to Pepperells.

Managing partner Ben Pepperell said: “We are delighted that this incorporation enables us to offer our clients old and new an even wider range of services and expertise, and we look forward to building upon our relationships with both firms’ clients.”

In Sheffield, Bell & Buxton has merged with commercial practice Morton Price, creating a firm with four partners and 44 staff. Bell & Buxton partner Alex Ross said the move would strengthen the practice’s corporate and property practices.

Morton Price’s Stephen Price, who is a consultant to Bell & Buxton, added: “We will now be able to offer our clients a wider range of legal services. Without the administrative burdens of running a practice and with the support of the other lawyers within Bell & Buxton, we can concentrate more on the needs of our clients”.

Also in Sheffield, six-partner Norrie Waite & Slater has joined forces with Leviten Thompson & Co to strengthen its criminal defence, family, and wills and probate practices.

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