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‘Filling in the gaps’: Bircham Dyson Bell and Pitmans eye ABS transition with merger

The partners of Bircham Dyson Bell and Pitmans have voted for a £50m merger and move to an alternative business structure (ABS).

The pair announced today (28 September) that the respective partnerships had overwhelmingly approved the tie-up, which is hoped will propel them into the top 50 of the UK’s law firms. It first announced the plans earlier this month bolstering flagging revenue figures at both firms and align their complementary practice areas.

The merged firm – BDB Pitmans – will take effect on 1 December and will operate from London, Reading, Cambridge and Southampton.

The combination of 80 partners and more than 400 staff will be led by legacy BDB managing partner Andrew Smith and chief operating officer Mark Jones, alongside an executive board including legacy Pitmans managing partner John Hutchinson, deputy managing partner Suzanne Brooker and senior partner David Archer. The board will also include three legacy BDB Partners and will be led by BDB’s Helen Ratcliffe, who will be senior partner of the merged firm.

Smith told Legal Business the firms initially met for introductory talks last November: ‘We took things up again in May and were able to move along quickly because of the support and collaboration on both sides.’

Hutchinson added: ‘The merger will allow for an enhanced offering for our clients in the geographies that work, and in the UK’s tech hubs.’

Historically, core practice areas for Pitmans have been pensions disputes, while BDB counts private wealth, infrastructure and corporate as its forte.

Smith noted: ‘One of the striking things is the number of very complementary practice areas, but there is also the opportunity to build out and grow. Now we can fill in the gaps. Restructuring and insolvency, corporate in all its forms, infrastructure planning and regeneration, as well as high net worth and ultra-high net worth individuals, will be the focus.’

BDB recorded a 3% revenue drop in 2017 to £33.7m, while profit per equity partner (PEP) fell by 10% to £222,000. Its revenue has increased by only 8% since 2013. For its part, Pitmans saw its revenue fall 3% in the year to 30 April 2017, down to £18.7m from £19.2m.

The Thames Valley-based Pitmans is no stranger to mergers, having completed a tie-up with City-based Calverts Solicitors in 2015. For its part, BDB has been gearing up for expansion, having last year absorbed the nine-lawyer office of King & Wood Mallesons (KWM) in Cambridge with a view to extending beyond its real estate specialism.