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Not so private client – Speechly Bircham and Withers call off high-profile merger bid

Merger talks between private client law firms Speechly Bircham and Withers have been abandoned, the firms announced today (23 May).

A joint statement from the firms said: ‘Following detailed discussions between the management and partnerships of Withers and Speechly Bircham, both sides have now concluded that a merger would not be in the best interests of both firms and have agreed not to pursue this further. The talks have enhanced the respect that both firms have for each other.’

The merger would have created a 600-lawyer practice with a combined £170m and would have elevated it into the top 25 of the Legal Business 100. It is understood that both firms had put the proposed union to their partnerships this week to gauge support, which led to the union being called off.

In a statement, Speechlys managing partner Michael Lingens said: ‘Our discussions with Withers were both interesting and positive but both sides separately concluded that we should pursue independent paths.

‘For Speechly Bircham, that means continuing our strategy of developing our well-established commercial and private wealth practices in an increasingly international context. We have recently opened an office in Zurich as part of our focus on international private wealth, and growth in the funds and tax work of our Luxembourg office has just led us to move to larger offices there.

‘We intend to open a third office in a major European location this autumn, with a significant team hire. The office will be focused on providing corporate and tax services to a commercial client base in line with the profile of our other offices.’

The proposed deal had been received by some as a promising union, though rivals generally saw the deal as more advantageous to the smaller Speechly than Withers. There was some gap in the underlying profitabilty of the pair with Withers enjoys a substantially higher profit per lawyer at £72,000 compared to Speechly’s £46,000. However, Speechly would have given Withers a solid mid-market transactional team to offset its core private client team.

The abandoning of the talks comes despite a sustained run of consolidation in the UK and internationally, with SJ Berwin currently in discussions over a union with Asia Pacific giant King & Wood Mallesons.