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Weightmans and Ward Hadaway ‘mutually withdraw’ from merger discussions

Weightmans and Newcastle-based Ward Hadaway have ended merger discussions which would have created a £130.8m national firm after ‘both firms reached a consensus their respective strategic priorities were not sufficiently aligned to invest in such a significant merger.’

In a statement, Weightmans managing partner John Schorah said that following discussions it became clear that both firms wanted different things from their respective futures.

Schorah (pictured) added: ‘Weightmans’ new structure will be in place on 1 May as part of a comprehensive strategic review. We will continue to focus on growing a balanced practice of defendant insurance work as well as litigation, transaction and advisory services to our clients, whilst further developing our innovative technology to meet changing client needs.’

Ward Hadaway’s managing partner Jamie Martin said: ‘We have enjoyed talking to John Schorah and his team and getting to know the people at Weightmans a bit better and we wish them well for the future.

‘Nevertheless, we wish to continue to pursue our strategy of developing a ‘Northern Law Firm for National Business’ across our three offices in Newcastle, Leeds and Manchester and our focus on providing legal services to Northern-based businesses.’

Legal Business first revealed details of the merger discussions in January. Both firms were understood to have been in talks since early 2016.

If the talks had been successful, they would have created a 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 have provided 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.

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.