Manchester and Leeds firm Cobbetts and Birm- ingham's Lee Crowder have set themselves an October deadline for concluding their merger talks. The two firms, which have known each other for many years, decided to investigate a possible tie-up in March this year. If the green light is given in October, the firms will aim to complete the merger by May 2004. "We're now at the due diligence stage, and the next milestone is to come to a binding agreement, which we want by the end of October," said Cobbetts managing partner Michael Shaw. Shaw vehemently denied rumours in the Birming-ham market that the talks are off, but said the two firms have not yet reached the stage of financial due diligence. "At the moment, we're looking at structure," explained Shaw. "We're starting with client issues and people issues, which comes before looking at financial integration. As long as the people fit is right, the finances can be fitted in." Last year Shaw masterminded a similar merger with Read Hind Stewart, which is now the Leeds office of Cobbetts.