Finers takes Stephens Innocent's name as merger ends speculation

Claire Smith reports on a union that has left one firm bemused after the merger counsel ran off with the bride.

West End firm Finers and City media practice Stephens Innocent have merged to form Finers Stephen Innocent, as predicted in The Lawyer last week (1 November).

The new firm, Finers Stephens Innocent, will begin practising on 14 December, with Finers' senior partner Peter Jay becoming senior partner of the merged practice and high-profile Stephens Innocent front man Mark Stephens head of international and media.

The announcement brings to an end weeks of speculation on the future of Stephens Innocent, which has seen four partners announce their departure in the last two months, and ends talk of a merger with City firm Rakisons.

Stephens, speaking to The Lawyer, says: “We had quite a few merger offers, but the two serious contenders were Rakisons and Finers.

“We were looking at Rakisons but they wanted a slightly more focused team, just our media people.”

The discussions with Finers lasted about five weeks. Stephens says: “We started talking to Finers because Rakisons was not taking all of the team and we thought we might be able to place some of the staff there.

“Then it became apparent that Finers offered a better client fit and a better staff fit.”

Rakisons senior partner Tony Wollenberg says his firm called off the talks. “Initially we had seen potential in our firms merging.

“However, during due diligence, we concluded that a full merger would not be in Rakisons' best interests.

“We are aware that Stephens Innocent are now planning to join Finers, though this came as somewhat of a surprise since Finers were representing Stephens Innocent in our merger discussions.”

He refuses to comment on whether Finers' behaviour was unethical, but when asked if he is taking any action against the firm, he says: “I am considering our position.”

Jay says he was representing Stephens Innocent until he was approached by the firm's partners and asked whether Finers would consider a merger.

He adds that as far as he is aware the decision to end talks was taken by Stephens Innocent, and not by Rakisons.

Stephens says: “I am sorry not to have been involved with Rakisons because I think they are a great firm.

“It was very difficult to choose, but sometimes you have to make hard choices.”

He will take his two remaining partners with him to the new firm.

Managing partner Nicola Solomon will become a partner in the international and media practice, and leading personal injury partner Peter Woods will work in litigation.

The rest of the firm will join the merger, except for what remains of Stephens Innocent's employment department, which will join London firm Bolt Burdon.

Head of employment Deborah Annetts left for Tarlo Lyons at the beginning of this month (The Lawyer, 4 October) leaving two assistants in the department. Stephens Innocent has lost three other partners in the run up to the merger announcement. Stuart Lockyear left the firm to join Davenport Lyons and Louis Charalambous went to Essex firm E.Edwards Son & Noice, while Robin Fry, who will join the merged firm as a consultant, has set up his own internet business.

Stephens says: “Partners made choices and made it clear they felt their careers lay elsewhere.”

He insists the departure decisions followed the merger discussions, although a source close to the firm tells The Lawyer partners decided to leave before they knew of the talks.

He says he has been looking for a suitable merger for three or four years.

“I have recognised for a long time that a niche firm of our kind had a limited life in a modern legal market place,” Stephens says.

“It's necessary to have a broader base and a larger management structure.”

Jay says the joining of the two firms is a merger and not a takeover.

The new 37-partner firm has chosen to keep both names because they feel the brands are both well-established.

“There may be some surprise that we have changed our name to theirs, but we had agreed on that from the very beginning because we felt both firms had very strong brand names,” Jay says.

“Mark is very much a Finers person. He's exuberant and creative and that's the sort of firm we are trying to create.

“I'm sure it will be the basis of a very good working relationship.”