Legal Business

ESG: Evolution or revolution?

Jonathan Bower, partner, planning and infrastructure team leader and partner lead for net zero by 2030 strategy at Womble Bond Dickinson, sets out the case for a clear ESG vision with a focus on inspiring behavioural change

Historical events have often led to transformative changes. The Industrial Revolution was one such moment and, today, we’re on the brink of another significant shift – an environmental, social and governance revolution. Although centuries apart, there are clear parallels between the two, not least the considerable cultural and social change needed to create a revolution.

Legal Business

LB100 – firm profile – Womble Bond Dickinson: Joining the dots

With mergers and performance across the pond enduringly hot topics in this year’s LB100 report, LB checked in with Womble Bond Dickinson to see how the firm has performed since it became a transatlantic law firm, and how its strategy looks after its tie-up talks with BDB Pitmans fell through

‘They were the right discussions to have,’ says Womble Bond Dickinson (WBD) managing partner Paul Stewart (pictured) of the talks with Pitmans. ‘But law firm mergers are not easy things to do. I wouldn’t rule anything out, but there’s certainly nothing I would talk about at the moment in terms of that kind of transactional activity.’

Legal Business

End of the road for Womble Bond Dickinson merger talks with BDB Pitmans

Merger talks between Womble Bond Dickinson (WBD) and BDB Pitmans have been called off, the firms announced on Wednesday (1 February) in a joint statement.

Talks of a combination first became public in October 2022, when a story on RollOnFriday prompted WBD and BDB Pitmans to confirm that they were in discussions around a potential merger, albeit early stage.

In the new statement, the firms said: ‘Womble Bond Dickinson and BDB Pitmans announce today that they have decided not to proceed further with their proposed merger. After extensive discussions on the combined proposition, both firms have decided that the best path forward is to remain independent of each other. Excellent relationships have been established and the firms will continue to work closely together in the future.’

No details were given as to why the talks fell over.

As Legal 500 data from late last year revealed, the two firms complemented each other in some notable ways. A combination offered Pitmans access to the US market, while WBD would have expanded its offering in the UK. In particular, WBD has little presence in the southeast and east of the country, while Pitmans is active in Southampton, Reading, and, since acquiring King & Wood Mallesons (KWM)’s office there in 2017, in Cambridge. The two firms also share strengths in real estate, particularly planning, and in private client work.

But, as with any proposed merger, there were always going to be disparities. First, while WBD has offices in the UK and the US, Pitmans has no presence outside the UK. Second, and more significant, there is a gulf between the two firms in terms of both headcount and turnover. WBD employs 888 lawyers, including 218 equity partners and 171 non-equity partners, with a total revenue in 2021-22 of £379m. Pitmans, by contrast, posted revenues of £53.3m, and is home to 235 lawyers, with 50 equity partners and 20 non-equity partners. Moreover, Pitmans’ revenues slumped 3% in the 2021-22 financial year, while WBD’s increased by 2%.

All this means that the proposed merger made sense: a combination firm would have had a top line of over £430m, and over £160m in the UK alone. But it also highlights that any eventual union would not have been one of equals.

A merger is, of course, a major upheaval for both firms involved. Even early-stage talks can be all it takes to upset the applecart and send partners searching for pastures new. A case in point is the ongoing exodus from Shearman & Sterling amid rumours of an upcoming tie-up with Hogan Lovells. Neither WBD nor Pitmans is a stranger to this process. WBD was established in 2017 when US firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice joined with UK-based Bond Dickinson, and Pitmans in its current form is the product of the 2018 union of Bircham Dyson Bell and Pitmans. But it may be that, especially in the context of reduced dealmaking on both sides of the Atlantic, both firms opted for the stability of the known over the risks of the unknown.

Legal Business

Womble Bond Dickinson and BDB Pitmans table merger

Womble Bond Dickinson (WBD) and BDB Pitmans are continuing to pursue a strategy of development through consolidation, having confirmed they are in talks over a potential merger.

After RollOnFriday broke the news of the merger talks today (21 October), the firms said in a joint statement: ‘Leading transatlantic law firm Womble Bond Dickinson and leading UK firm BDB Pitmans confirm that they are in early discussions around a potential merger. Both firms regularly review opportunities to advance the best interests of their clients and their respective firms. Womble Bond Dickinson and BDB Pitmans are focused on where they see the greatest opportunities for a merged business, including those offered by complementary practice areas and office locations.

‘As discussions are ongoing, both firms have no further information to share at this time.’

Staff at both firms are well acquainted with the merger process, given their respective strategies in recent years. WBD in its current form was established in 2017, when national firm Bond Dickinson (itself the result of the 2013 union of Dickinson Dees and Bond Pearce) joined up with its US strategic ally Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice. A year later, partners of Bircham Dyson Bell and Pitmans voted for a £50m merger and move to an alternative business structure, establishing BDB Pitmans in its current form.

Any deal that is struck would not represent a merger of equals, given the disparity in size between the two firms. With offices both sides of the Atlantic, WBD’s latest revenue figure reached £379m after a 2% increase, while UK-only Pitmans’ came in at £53.3m following a 3% fall. The benefit to WBD is likely to come from the boost a tie-up would have on its UK business, which this year generated £113.8m. For Pitmans, a merger would grant access to a network of US offices previously unavailable to the national firm.

Legal Business

Financials 2016/17: Bond Dickinson posts flat turnover as PEP drops 4%

Bond Dickinson has posted flat turnover for 2016/17 of £104m, while profit per equity partner (PEP) has slipped 4% from £275,000 to £265,000.

Meanwhile, profit per lawyer at the firm is up 2% to £38,000, albeit against a 7% fall in total lawyer headcount to 478. Equity partner numbers at the firm have increased by two to 68, explaining the fall in PEP.

Speaking to Legal Business, Bond Dickinson’s managing partner Jonathan Blair (pictured) said it had been a good year for a number of different business groups, particularly private wealth.

‘Private wealth saw a very strong performance last year. Dispute resolution was okay, real estate was good. Corporate and commercial was steady – we saw a dip in M&A activity in the run-up to Brexit and it was a few months before that started coming back, but that came back quite strongly.’

Key client wins for the firm over the last year have included CCS, AIG, Crown Estate and Lloyds Banking Group.

The 2016/17 financials do not account for the tie-up earlier this year with US firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, which will go live on 1 October. The combination will create a new transatlantic law firm and UK top 20 firm with £340m in combined revenues.

The new combined entity, which will be structured as a company limited by guarantee, will not financially integrate the two firms, although will be a shared ‘pot’ for any integration costs incurred as well as a possibility of a future shared pot to reward collaboration and team work.

The last year also saw Bond Dickinson expand its presence in Scotland with a second office in Edinburgh focusing on energy, financial institutions and real estate. The firm already has an office in Aberdeen which is focused on oil and gas.

Legal Business

Firms including Bond Dickinson, TLT and DAC Beachcroft appointed to local authority framework

A host of UK firms including Bond DickinsonTLT and DAC Beachcroft have been appointed to West Yorkshire authorities’ legal framework (WYLAW) for three years.

A total of nineteen law firms have been appointed across ten lots which include childcare law, general litigation, routine property and contracts, commercial and IT. National firms Browne Jacobson, Ward Hadaway and Weightmans also feature on the roster. The last WYLAW review was carried out in June 2013 resulting in a panel which included Eversheds Sutherland and Pinsent Masons.

WYLAW comprises Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds and Wakefield councils, as well as the City of York Council and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority.

The framework term is three years, with an optional further one year extension.

In a statement commenting on the review, Jackie Gray, head of Bond Dickinson’s local government group in Leeds said the appointment was ‘strategically important for the firm and for the Leeds office’ as Bond Dickinson looks to expand its capability in local government work.

Gray added: ‘Having a dedicated local government team means that together with our property, planning, employment, pensions, litigation, corporate and commercial teams in Leeds we have a local responsive team of lawyers who can advise members of WYLAW every step of the way.’

Lots are categorised as (1) childcare law, (2) adult social service and community law, (3) general litigation, (4) routine property, (5) contracts, commercial and IT, (6) highways and environments, (7) major or complex procurements, (8) local government and corporate governance, (9) employment and pensions, (10) public health.

Firms appointed to multiple panels include:

  • Bevan Brittan (lots 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10)
  • Browne Jacobson (lots 1, 2,)
  • Bond Dickinson (lots 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9,)
  • Freeths (lots 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9)
  • Sheffield City Council (lots 1, 2, 3, 9,)
  • Stephensons Solicitors (lots 1, 2, 3, 4, 9)
  • Ward Hadaway (lots 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10)
  • Weightmans (lots 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10)
Legal Business

Moving on: Bond Dickinson offers redundancies in Bristol following QBE panel loss

Bond Dickinson has made up to five voluntary redundancies in its Bristol office after the firm lost out on a panel spot with Australian insurer QBE.

In a statement, the firm said: ‘Earlier this year following on from a panel loss we had to undertake a restructuring exercise with our professional risks team which resulted in voluntary redundancies. Fortunately, all of those solicitors who have now left the firm are moving on to new roles.’

In October last year, Legal Business revealed that QBE was launching a review of its UK claims panel, following the appointment of Carol Scobie as group general counsel and company secretary in January 2016.

The UK panel, which was last reviewed in 2014, is responsible for carrying out a large amount of disputes work for the insurer. The last UK review was overseen by then European claims director Dominic Clayden, now group chief claims officer, with firms including Berrymans Lace Mawer, Mayer Brown, Plexus Law and RPC making the list.

Just last week, Bond Dickinson announced that it was combining with its US strategic alliance partner Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice to create a new transatlantic law firm and UK top 20 firm with £340m in combined revenues.

The new firm, Womble Bond Dickinson, will launch on 1 October 2017. More than 420 partners and 1,000 lawyers will work across its eight UK offices, and 15 US offices, including London, Newcastle and Bristol, and Washington D.C., Atlanta, Charlotte.

The combined mid-market firm will focus on 12 key sector groups, including energy and natural resources, healthcare, insurance, real estate, retail and consumer and pharma and life sciences.

Legal Business

Bond Dickinson combines with Womble Carlyle to create transatlantic firm with £340m combined revenues

Bond Dickinson has joined up with its US strategic alliance firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice to create a new transatlantic law firm and UK top 20 firm with £340m in combined revenues.

The new firm, Womble Bond Dickinson, will launch on 1 October 2017. More than 420 partners and 1,000 lawyers will work across its eight UK offices, and 15 US offices, including London, Newcastle and Bristol, and Washington D.C., Atlanta, Charlotte.

At a partner vote at Bond Dickinson held earlier this week, over 75% of partners voted for the tie-up. At Womble Carlyle, the threshold was slightly lower, with the firm needing two thirds of those partners eligible to vote to back the combination.

The new combined entity, which will be structured as a company limited by guarantee, will not financially integrate the two firms, although will be a shared ‘pot’ for any integration costs incurred as well as a possibility of a future shared pot to reward collaboration and team work.

While each firm will continue to operate as a separate and autonomous partnership with independent US and UK management, the combined entity will be led by a new transatlantic eight member board of four partners from each firm.

Bond Dickinson partners Simon Watts, Nick Barwood and Paula Dillion, alongside US partners Jeff Hay, Christopher Bolan and David Hamilton, will be appointed to the board.

Betty Temple, Womble Carlyle’s chair and chief executive, and Jonathan Blair, Bond Dickinson’s managing partner, will co-chair the board.

Both firms have been working together in an exclusive strategic alliance for almost a year. Temple, however, told Legal Business, that the relationship had progressed rapidly over the last six months.

‘Since we launched the strategic alliance we have been really impressed by the breadth and depth of the collaboration between our firms particularly in relating to the client service, business development and knowledge management.

‘While it has been established for nearly a year, in the last six months it has rapidly progressed to a point where we just believe we can do more combined, even more for our clients’, Temple said.

Temple highlighted Carlyle’s ‘great working relationship with Bond Dickinson’, adding: ‘we have such incredible culture and quality similarities and that is just one of those synergies you can’t make up.’

Blair said that ‘the agreement creating Womble Bond Dickinson marks the achievement and culmination of our vision to be a top 20 law firm by 2020.’

The ‘combined firm enables us to provide an enviable transatlantic platform for further expansion and growth in the UK, where London remains a priority for investment along with Edinburgh and other regional areas important to US and UK clients,’ he added.

The combined mid-market firm will have twelve markets, including energy and natural resources, healthcare, insurance, real estate, retail and consumer and pharma and life sciences.

Legal Business

Hogan Lovells ousts NRF to join Bond Dickinson on Crown Estate energy portfolio

The Crown Estate has awarded the legal mandate for its energy, minerals and infrastructure portfolio to LB 100 firms Hogan Lovells and Bond Dickinson.

The panel was last reviewed in 2013 when Norton Rose Fulbright was given a spot alongside Bond Dickinson. General counsel (GC) Rob Booth oversaw the tender process, which was commenced in September 2016. Booth replaced previous GC Vivienne King in May 2016.

The appointments will see Hogan Lovells advising the Crown Estate’s renewable energy business, including its offshore wind portfolio which supplies 5% of the UK’s annual electricity.

Bond Dickinson will offer advice to the Crown Estate’s minerals and infrastructure business, which covers marine aggregates and subsea cables and pipelines.

Hogan Lovells client relationship partner and chair, Nicholas Cheffings said: ‘We have acted for The Crown Estate for a number of years now and it is a treasured relationship. To win this mandate, we had to display a compelling combination of real estate, energy and infrastructure expertise.’

Booth (pictured) added: ‘We are very happy to announce these appointments, which support our continued delivery of a best in class legal service across The Crown Estate. We have great confidence in Bond Dickinson and Hogan Lovells; advising on this highly strategic portfolio of assets.’

The Crown Estate oversees an eight million square ft £7bn central London commercial property portfolio including all of Regent Street and a large portion of St James’s.

In January 2017, The Crown Estate awarded the sole mandate for this portfolio to Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP).

Upon Booth’s appointment in May 2016, it was announced that the Crown Estate will be overhauling its sets of legal advisers.

Read more: ‘A buyers’ market – The trends and traumas in adviser reviews’

Legal Business

Vaulting ambition: Bond Dickinson to launch in Edinburgh

National player Bond Dickinson is to expand its Scottish presence with a second office, in Edinburgh. The firm, which already has a presence in Aberdeen, will open an office with around two or three partners and up to 20 staff.

The Edinburgh office will be based in Princes Street in the city, with a particular focus on energy, financial institutions and real estate. Bond Dickinson’s Aberdeen office is focused on oil and gas.

Commenting on the launch, Jonathan Blair, managing partner at Bond Dickinson said: ‘We wanted a second office in Scotland to support our clients and Edinburgh was a natural choice, being at the heart of Scotland’s central belt.

Blair (pictured) added: ‘The firm’s growth strategy includes increasing our presence in both domestic and international markets where the opportunities to do more work for our clients exist. Our approach to growth and investment has always been in response to client demand. Over the past year we have heard from more and more clients that they are keen that we have an Edinburgh presence, so that we are on hand when they need us.’

Last year saw mid-market firm Bond Dickinson secure an exclusive alliance with full-service US firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice. The deal means that Womble Carlyle will refer all UK work to Bond Dickinson and vice versa.

In December 2014 Bond Dickinson entered into its first strategic alliance with German firm Redeker Sellner Dahs as part of a growing international strategy.

The firm saw both its turnover and profit per equity partner (PEP) dip by 3% for the financial year 2015/16.

Turnover stands at £104m, down from last year’s figure of £107m, while PEP is £275,000 compared to £284,000 for the financial year 2014/15. The firm said the figures are a result of investment in the business and people in order to be in the best position for long term growth.