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Bevan Ashford is finally to split in two, 18 years after its merger. The move was announced last Monday (14 June), and will see the Birmingham, Bristol and London (BBL) arm formally demerge from the Exeter, Plymouth and London arm (EPL) at the end of October.
The BBL arm, which accounts for around two thirds of turnover, is to be renamed Bevan Britten, while the EPL outpost will trade as Ashfords. At the same time, Bevan Britten will convert to an LLP.
Bevan Ashford was born after the 1986 merger of two regional players, Bevan Hancock and Ashford Sparks & Harward.
For 18 years, its two arms maintained separate recruitment teams, separate IT systems, different websites, distinct partner profit schemes, and apart from the odd bit of personal injury litigation, different client bases.
That’s right. One firm, two partner remuneration schemes, separate profit pools, two websites, separate recruitment systems, and virtually no shared clients. Apart from combining turnover for the purposes of The Lawyer 100 and sharing a single insurance policy, this was the law firm version of a marriage in name only.
BBL chief executive Stuart Whitfield said in an announcement that the twin structure, “has served the firm well over the past decade” – but it is hard to see how. What the structure has done, over the past five years in particular, is occupy an inordinate amount of management time, taken the scalps of two BBL chief executives and caused more than a fair amount of confusion in the market.
But somehow, despite the curious financials, and the distracting twin structure, both arms of the firm have continued to show strong financial results. This year, combined turnover hit £50.47m, up from £42.6m last year.
So, after 18 years of unhappy union, the two arms of the firm have finally decided to call it a day. Or, to put another spin on it, BBL has finally managed to extract itself from the embrace of its country cousin.
Already rumours have the firm looking to attract a new merger partner. Bevan Britten knows that if it is ever to develop the national PFI practice it lusts after, it needs national spread, and fast.
Both Addleshaw Goddard and Dickinson Dees could be in the frame. Indeed, BBL already has a close relationship with Addleshaws. It is hooked up on the Department of Education’s Building Schools for the Future PFI.