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Months of discussions result in an emphatic 'yes' vote for a merger with competitor Sherwin Oliver
Hampshire firm Blake Lapthorn is gearing up for a boom in insolvency work after sealing a merger with Portsmouth practice Sherwin Oliver Solicitors. Both firms held full partnership votes at the end of August following three months of discussions. The merger will go live on 1 October and will see all of Sherwin Oliver's 12 partners joining Blake Lapthorn. Sherwin Oliver chief executive Adrian Davis, a retired banker who joined from Barclays two years ago, will leave the firm. Sherwin Oliver intellectual property (IP) partner Geoffrey Sturgess said Davis was instrumental to the merger negotiations, but "is pleased to have negotiated himself out of a job". He added: "The merged firm may continue to use him on specific projects." The firm will retain the Blake Lapthorn brand, although the Sherwin Oliver name is likely to be used for insolvency marketing. Blake Lapthorn's senior partner David Russell and managing partner Walter Cha will retain their roles in the firm. The six-partner management board will be joined by Sherwin Oliver's head of commercial property Andrew Peck. Sherwin Oliver's staff will move into Blake Lapthorn's offices in Portsmouth, Southampton and Fareham. The niche firm's reputation for insolvency work was among the key drivers for the merger. Russell said: "Looking ahead, it's probably sensible to be geared up in insolvency. The banks are starting to move. Sherwin Oliver's work complements ours. We've been anxious to increase our specialist teams." The niche firm also focuses on M&A, IP, commercial property, franchising and IT. Sturgess said that Sherwin Oliver had been considering a merger with a larger firm for two years. "We're a niche commercial practice operating in a market where our competitors are all substantially larger than us," he said. "From our point of view, the enormous advantage is being part of one of the biggest players in this region. From Blake Lapthorn's point of view, they gain in a number of areas. One is insolvency. They also gain expertise in IP, IT and franchising, which are areas in which they have not had a significant reputation. "The other great advantage is that, for our size, we do a remarkable amount of M&A work which largely faces east from here." Sturgess said that the larger firm's banking and plc flotation capability was another attraction. Neither firm felt the need to consult clients on the merger. "We didn't find that necessary. We analysed who we act for and we don't foresee any problems," said Russell. Sturgess said: "Undoubtedly, there are clients where we do some of the work and they do some of the work. There are also clients of ours which were once clients of theirs, because we've been very keen competitors over the years." Blake Lapthorn reported an 11 per cent increase in turnover to £18.1m for the last financial year. Russell said that the combined turnover of the firm was likely to be around £22m.