Eversheds is in merger talks with 26-partner Newcastle firm Wilkinson Maughan, as the northern city faces a sudden influx of national firms.
It is understood that both Dibb Lupton Alsop and Garretts are also looking to move into the city - in Dibb's case, by taking over an existing firm. Davies Arnold Cooper and Russell Jones & Walker have both recently opened new offices in Newcastle.
A spokesman for Wilkinson Maughan said the suggestion they were discussing merging with Eversheds was "pure speculation".
However, other sources confirmed that preliminary talks had begun, although no vote had yet been taken. Eversheds is insisting any new firm bear the Eversheds name.
The merger would enable Eversheds - which already has a 17-partner office in Newcastle - to challenge Dickinson Dees' long-standing dominance of the city.
Dibb Lupton Alsop is understood to be talking to 10-partner Robert Muckle Solicitors about a takeover, and is also thought to have been looking for office space in Newcastle. But Muckle's managing partner Ian Gilthorpe played down the idea. "We are just looking to grow our business," he said.
Dibbs' senior partner, Robin Smith, would not comment.
There is also talk that Arthur Andersens' law firm Garretts is looking to move into Newcastle, but an Andersens spokesman denied the rumour. Ander- sens moved back into the city last year after closing down its office there several years ago. Garretts had not replied to queries when we went to press.
Davies Arnold Cooper has opened a three-lawyer insurance practice in Newcastle, with senior associate Richard Lord saying it wants to double in size swiftly.
"It is beginning to be a competitive market," said Lord. "Newcastle is a city that is beginning to regenerate itself."
Russell Jones & Walker this week opened an office concentrating on personal injury, criminal and employment law. The office will have five fee earners, and will be headed by partner Phillip Andrews.
Newcastle has, until now, been largely ignored by national and big London firms, with most work handled from Leeds offices, but many are now following clients into a burgeoning city economy.