Private client leaders Speechly Bircham and Withers are set to merge, potentially creating a 600-lawyer, £170m practice that will fit easily into the top 25 of the Legal Business 100.
News of the union was revealed by RollonFriday on 22 March. On paper the union would make strategic sense. The two firms have almost identical profit margins (Speechly 20%; Withers 21%), although Withers has a considerably higher profit per lawyer of £72,000 to Speechly’s £46,000.
However, the real benefits of the merger will be the combined strength in serving high-net-worth clients. The two firms are highly ranked across various private client disciplines in The Legal 500 and both have considerable international wealth management practices. Withers is a longstanding transatlantic law firm, while both have expanded in recent years into different but strategically important private client jurisdictions, including Switzerland, Luxembourg and Singapore.
Both firms are also no stranger to tie-ups: Withers merged with US practice Bergman Horowitz & Reynolds in 2002, while Speechly’s acquisition of Campbell Hooper in 2009 was widely credited as being the first of a wave of mid-market consolidation post-Lehman.
A likely deal comes amid a continuing run of consolidation in the middle ranges of the UK profession, with Legal Business revealing this month that Addleshaw Goddard and Nabarro had recently held – and abandoned – merger discussions.
Update Monday 25 March – The firms have released a joint statement.
‘Withers and Speechly Bircham can confirm that they are in preliminary discussions regarding a potential merger. Both firms see exciting opportunities for growth in such a merger.
‘Both Withers and Speechly Bircham have been growing their international offering in response to changes in the global legal market and the increasing importance of private capital in the world economy.
‘There is still a lot more work to be done before any final decision can be reached and so we will not be issuing any further comment at this stage.’
However, one former Withers partner said that the talks are far from preliminary.