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DIBB Lupton Alsop managing partner Nigel Knowles is publicly courting Edge & Ellison amid intense speculation about the future of the Birmingham firm.
Knowles, whose firm has just poached the head of Edge & Ellison's tax department, Gregory Morris, told The Lawyer last week that the practice "would make a grave mistake" if it merged with another firm before considering a Dibbs offer.
However, it is understood that Edge & Ellison managing partner Digby Jones told fellow partners last Thursday that he could not personally countenance a merger with Dibbs.
And in a public statement on Friday, Jones insisted that it was "business as usual" at the firm "which is not currently holding talks with anyone".
Widespread speculation that Edge & Ellison is on the brink of a major merger came to a head last week with reports that it was poised to merge with Pinsent Curtis.
However, Pinsents suddenly withdrew from talks in a move which Jones described in his statement as "surprising".
"To my knowledge, nothing had been discovered in our discussions which would cause either party to withdraw," he said.
Pinsents' senior partner Julian Tonks said: "They approached us with a view to acquiring their practice. It was in our interests to have a look."
It is understood that Dibbs' managing partner Nigel Knowles immediately stepped in and met with Jones either with a fresh offer or to confirm an offer which it is understood he has been pushing for some weeks.
"I would be delighted to present to Digby Jones and his partners on the Dibb Lupton vision for Birmingham and nationally," said Knowles.
"They would make a grave mistake if they concluded a deal with someone else before I am invited to present."
Knowles added: "I have the highest regard for Digby Jones and what he has achieved at Edge & Ellison."
Observers believe that one obstacle to a Dibbs takeover is an element of bad feeling which may have built up due to defections from Edge & Ellison to Dibbs in recent months.
In January, two partners and three assistants in the corporate department announced that they were going over. More recently they were followed by director of training and recruitment Robert Halton. And three weeks ago, tax head Morris abruptly defected to Dibbs.
According to insiders, Jones has long been frustrated at his inability to break the grip of Pinsents and Wragge & Co on Birmingham's premium clients. He therefore changed tack and began to look for expansion through merger.
However, in his statement, he said: "Last year's results were very satisfactory."