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SPECIALIST insurance firms Berrymans and Lace Mawer have both made key strategic announcements in the run-up to their widely anticipated merger.
London firm Berrymans has just made nine of its solicitors partners, while the Manchester firm with which it is in merger talks has revealed that it is planning to open up an office in Leeds at some point this year.
The Berrymans appointments, all salaried partnerships, affect solicitors of around five years' post-qualification experience across various departments at the firm.
The appointments, combined with the arrival of four partners from the marine insurance firm Ingledew Brown Bennison & Garrett late last year, mean the number of partners in the firm has shot from 25 to 38 in a matter of months.
Martin Buffell, who is head of Berrymans' personal injury department, said that the firm had notified Lace Mawer of the appointments.
But although the appointments now mean that both firms have roughly the same number of partners, Buffell stressed they were not directly linked to the talks.
"It would be unfair on them to suggest that, because they are all very talented people who will make excellent partners,"
Meanwhile, Lace Mawer, which currently has offices in Liverpool and Manchester, has confirmed that it intends to open up a Leeds office this year.
Senior partner Gordon Jeffrey said that the firm had decided on the move "to service clients in the North East".
He added: "We have a number of national clients, especially in insurance, and this decision is driven by what we perceive our clients want."
The move to open up in Leeds marks a reversal of the recent trend for firms in Leeds to gain a foothold in the North West, marked most dramatically by Dibb Lupton Broomhead's merger last year with Alsop Wilkinson.
Martin Walker, managing partner at Pinsent Curtis's Leeds office, said that it would make sense for a specialist firm to open up in Leeds but it would be more difficult for larger regional firms to make the move.
"One or two firms have looked at Leeds but there is a high level of competition here already," he said.