Geographical expansion to fore in latest law firm M&A rush

Hanlon: Firm expanding into different market area

It’s been a busy couple of months for merger and acquisition activity in England and Wales, with firms expanding their geographical footprint a notable trend.

Our round-up begins with top-50 law firm Birketts merging with Batchelors Solicitors, which has around 40 staff in Bromley, Kent and the City of London.

Ipswich-headquartered Birketts will complete the deal on 31 March 2023. Eight partners from Batchelors will take the total at Birketts to 106. Batchelors’ London staff will move to Birketts’ own City office, while the Bromley staff will relocate to a new office in Sevenoaks.

“Expanding our geographical footprint to six offices will enable us to provide legal support on a larger scale by supporting more clients across Kent, Surrey, Sussex and further afield,” Birketts said.

The firm’s chief executive, Jonathan Agar, added: “With shared specialisms and a business structure very similar to our own, we are confident that they will fit seamlessly, both commercially and culturally, into our full-service offering.”

Thaine Wilson, managing partner of Batchelors, said: “The merger is truly pivotal in terms of the opportunities that it presents for future growth in our key market sectors of social housing, commercial, property and private client.”

Also expanding its geographical reach is Grey-Smith Legal, based in Saltburn, North Yorkshire, which specialises in residential and commercial conveyancing. It has acquired Cochrane’s Law Firm, taking on 15 members of staff in the Teesside towns of Stockton and Billingham.

Grey-Smith only opened in 2021 and already has another office in Spennymoor, County Durham.

Founder Dale Smith said: “Jim Cochrane and his team bring vast amounts of knowledge and experience, which will greatly support the growth and development of these two brands in the years ahead.

“It has always been our ambition to be one of the North-East’s leading law firms in relation to conveyancing and private client work.”

Mr Cochrane said: “Our two firms are similar in size and make-up, so it made sense to come together to create a larger firm, able to provide a comprehensive legal service to local communities as well as further afield.”

Grey-Smith Legal is expecting to see revenue in the next financial year exceed £2.5m, and add 15 staff to its current 25.

The law firm is part of The SDDE Smith Group, a family-owned portfolio of property related businesses based in the North-East that also includes design, construction and property management.

Also growing is Welsh commercial firm Acuity Law, which has acquired specialist dental law firm Goodman Grant. Acuity, which has offices in Cardiff, Swansea, Bristol and London, adds Leeds and Liverpool to its network with the deal.

Steve Berry, chairman of Acuity Law, said: “This acquisition forms part of our ambitious growth strategy to develop the firm across the UK built around a team with sector-leading reputations and expertise.

“We are thrilled to be welcoming Goodman Grant and fully recognise the value the firm and its knowledgeable team will bring to our healthcare offering and overarching brand.” Acuity now has over 30 lawyers in its healthcare team, part of 130 it has nationwide.

Still in South Wales, Martyn Prowel of Cardiff and Bridgend has merged with Gartsides in Newport and Abergavenny to create Martyn Prowel Gartsides. The combined legal practice has doubled in size to 60 staff.

In the South-West, Everys Solicitors has merged with Stokes Partners. It will operate as Everys Solicitors incorporating Stokes Partners. The firm has over 140 staff, including 17 partners, and is spread over eight locations throughout East Devon, Somerset and London.

Everys’ managing partner James Griffin said: “When considering firms to merge with, we looked for a firm whose strengths complemented ours, whose culture, values and philosophy were similar to ours, and whose goals matched ours. In Stokes we have found the perfect partner.”

IBB Law and Slough-based Owen White Solicitors are merging from 1 January 2023 “to achieve greater breadth and diversity of service for a growing client base in the Thames Valley and beyond”.

IBB is based in Uxbridge in West London with offices into the Thames Valley. The merger will create a 36-partner, 110-lawyer, £24m-turnover full-service law firm. The combined workforce is 261 people and the plan is to reach a turnover of £30m by 2024/25.

Owen White is a niche commercial firm based in Slough particularly known for property development and franchising work. It has five partners and 25 lawyers.

The merged firm, which will be known as IBB Law LLP and IBB Owen White for a transitionary period, will move into new expanded offices in Reading in early February 2023. Owen White’s staff will either move there or IBB’s Uxbridge office.

Joanna DeBiase will continue as managing partner for the merged firm and Owen White managing partner Jane Masih will join the main Board of IBB Law LLP.

Ms Masih said: “The decision to join forces with IBB Law is a natural response to the growing needs of our commercial client base and provides exciting opportunities to enhance the services we will be able to offer both existing and new clients.”

In Cumbria, Bendles, which has offices in Carlisle and Wigton, is acquiring Bleasdales in Whitehaven. Bendles also own Tiffens Estate Agents. It adds three fee-earners to the 22 Bendles already has.

Bendles partner Jonty Hanlon said: “Bleasdales and ourselves cover similar areas of law, which will deepen the expertise in the business. It also allows us to expand into a different market area, which we feel will be beneficial for our collective client base.”

Consultancy law firm Excello Law has acquired another fee-share practice, My Business Counsel. The 40 consultant lawyers joining increases Excello’s headcount by a quarter to 200.

Established in 2011 by Sandip and Rasneet Sohal, MBC has a turnover of £2.5m, with its core focus on corporate and commercial work.

Rasneet Sohal said: “Through Excello’s scale, our lawyers will benefit from a wider array of resources allowing them to focus on the service to their clients, which will in turn contribute to the growth of the Excello Group.”

In London, Payne Hicks Beach has acquired sports law practice Solesbury Gay. Partner Mark Gay has joined as a partner, with former Olympic rower Tom Solesbury having moved to UK Athletics as legal counsel.

Mr Gay said his aim was to “pull together the strands of existing sports work that [Payne Hicks] currently conducts to establish a leading sports law practice”.

Dominic Crossley, head of Payne Hicks Beach’s dispute resolution team, said he expected sports litigation, “under Mark’s stewardship, to be amongst the other fields where we are considered by clients as the ‘go to’ firm for the most challenging cases”.

Top US practice Milbank is to acquire the London office of Scottish firm Dickson Minto, bringing in a team of seven partners and 20 associates. “It is a logical next step after our expansion in the PE space in the US, Germany and Asia,” said Norbert Rieger, global head of Milbank’s corporate group.

International intellectual property firm Rouse has acquired Swedish IP firm Valea AB. “There is an ever-growing need for diversity of networks and for speed, and we had this in mind when we started conversations with Valea,” said Luke Minford, chief executive of Rouse.

Andrew Hammond, founding partner of Valea, said: “IP firms and professionals across the globe have been siloed for too long, restricting knowledge sharing and, ultimately, limiting innovation among multinational corporations.

“Through our deal with Rouse, we are excited to be a part of the movement aiming to tackle the issue of siloing, and kickstart a more efficient IP services market.”

Multi-disciplinary professional services firm, Progeny – which has two alternative business structures within its group – has acquired Sussex-based chartered financial planning practice Lewis Brownlee Financial Services.

The acquisition will allow Progeny to further expand its presence in the south of England and take its assets under management to nearly £7bn.

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