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LEEDS-BASED Booth & Co has confirmed it is talking to Manchester firm Addleshaw Sons & Latham with a view to a possible merger.
Booths' senior partner, Maurice Cowen, stresses discussions are at "a very early stage" and merger is only one option.
But Paul Lee, Addleshaws' managing partner, says merger talks are not on the agenda.
"We talk to Booth & Co all the time. That's because we are both members of the M5 Group," he says.
If the firms do join forces they would create the single largest practice without a London base, topping 300 fee earners.
Paul Rhodes, managing partner of Leeds giant Dibb Lupton Broomhead, says: "If you expect me to quake in my boots then I'm going to have to disappoint you."
Both Booths and Addleshaws are members of the Norton M5 group and Cowen says their close proximity is the main reason for the discussions.
"We are only 35 miles apart. You would expect us to be talking to each other. But it's not necessarily a merger. It's about developing a closer working partnership," he says.
Cowen slams the rumour-mongers who "put two and two together and make six", but one informed observer says Addleshaws is not the only firm to have been courted by Booths. "They seemed to have decided that they are going up the aisle, but it's now a case of finding the right partner."
Michael Cover, managing partner of Davies Arnold Cooper's Manchester office, says that if the two firms do merge it may be from a defensive position.
With regard to M5, Cowen says the strategies of Dibbs and Hammond Suddards have encouraged firms within the group to consider their own plans. "But we believe our strategy is the correct one. Each of the firms within M5 has grown significantly, not least because of its association."
Jonathan Barclay, chair of the M5 group board and a Mills & Reeve partner, says a merger between two member firms would "in no way be incompatible with continuing membership of the group".