National firm Weightmans is in merger talks with Newcastle-based Ward Hadaway, Legal Business can reveal, with both firms understood to have been in talks for the past year.
Were the two firms to combine, it would create a £130.8m national firm with offices in Newcastle, Birmingham, Dartford, Glasgow, Knutsford, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, London and Manchester. Both firms have a presence in Leeds and Manchester but any merger would provide Weightmans with a strong foothold in the North East.
Although Weightmans is substantially larger than Ward Hadaway with turnover of £95m for 2015/16 compared to Ward Hadaway’s £35.8m, profit per equity partner (PEP) at the Newcastle firm soared 49% in the last financial year to £336,000, while in contrast PEP at Weightmans fell 19% to £231,000.
In a statement, John Schorah, manging partner of Weightmans said: ‘The legal market is changing and it is always sensible to look at opportunities that might benefit a business, its clients and its staff so Weightmans and Ward Hadaway are currently talking to each other to see if there are benefits of working closer together. We have shared strategic objectives and a significant number of shared clients. Whether or not these discussions will lead to anything permanent is, at the moment, unknown but we are enjoying getting to know each other better, sharing ideas and the discussions will be a benefit to our businesses, our clients and our staff even if nothing permanent comes of the discussion.’
Weightmans is no stranger to mergers, combining with local Leeds firm Ford & Warren in 2015 to create a firm with revenues of around £100m and headcount of over 1,400. The merger provided Weightmans with a new base in Leeds, giving the firm a presence in nine UK locations, with two offices apiece in London and Manchester. Management at Weightmans, whose practice centres on defending medical and clinical negligence claims, are aiming to consolidate these into cost-efficient single offices with the London office consolidated into one office this year, and Manchester in 2018.
Meanwhile Ward Hadaway employs more than 450 staff, with 80 partners across three offices.