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Consolidation watch: serial acquirer Shakespeares targets City practice through Davenport Lyons merger

It may not have attracted as much attention as DWF this year but Midlands challenger firm Shakespeares shows no sign of easing up on an acquisitive streak that has seen it pick-up a handful of firms since 2007. This time it is looking to establish a credible London presence through a merger with 80-lawyer West End firm Davenport Lyons.

As reported on RollonFriday today (16 December), the two firms are currently in discussions with a view to a tie-up.Both firms reverted to the standard approach of refusing comment on what they described as ‘speculation’ while at the same time not denying that discussions were taking place. Part of a statement released by Davenport Lyons said: ‘Davenport Lyons has always been open to exploring all opportunities including potential merger and acquisition activity. We continue to do so but we cannot comment further on any details of any conversations at this stage.’

Having completed its most significant deal to date when tied the knot with Leicester’s Harvey Ingram in 2012, this year saw the firm bolt on another Leicester firm, Marrons, as well as Coventry-based Newsome Vaughan.

Davenport Lyons, which has seen other firms in West End such as Mishcon de Reya, Forsters and HowardKennedy FSI push ahead since the turn of the credit crisis, has not had the best of fortunes in recent times, seeing its revenues fall 11% from £24.5m to £21.9m in 2012-13, while profit per equity partner (PEP) dropped 12.5 per cent to £197,000.

This is in stark contrast to Shakespeares, which saw revenues rise by 55% to £45.4m in 2012-13 due in large part to its Harvey Ingram merger. Shakespeares also obtained an alternative business licence (ABS) to cater for its insurance clients earlier in the year.

Combined revenues of the two would push Shakespeares close the top 50 UK firms by revenue, at around £67m. Speaking to Legal Business in 2009, Shakespeares’ chief executive Paul Wilson predicted the firm would break the £50m mark by the end of 2015 – this target now looks conservative given the firm’s appetite for mergers to date.

Shakespeares looks set to continue a trend in 2013 that has seen two other burgeoning regional firms establish footholds in the capital by acquiring smaller London outfits. DWF began the year by absorbing City insurance outfit Fishburns, while Sussex-based Thomas Eggar struck a deal with Pritchard Englefield in the Spring.