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Edge & Ellison senior partner Digby Jones the man who publicly committed the firm to a merger last year is to quit the legal profession in April to join Big Six accountancy firm KPMG in Birmingham.
Both Jones and Edges insist he was not forced out of the practice. But, in an unusually candid statement, the firm's managing partner, Gil Hayward, said Jones' 'high profile has sometimes obscured the firm's overall strengths'.
His departure has prompted a management shake-up at the firm which has drawn up a three-year plan designed to end the speculation about its future which raged last year.
The plan calls for: the consolidation of the firm's position in the Midlands; the doubling of the size of its London office by lateral appointments; and the trebling of its transatlantic business.
Jones is being replaced by head of employment James Retallack. Hayward is to take up the post of deputy senior partner, and will be replaced as managing partner by Simon Ramshaw, head of the pensions unit. Hayward will oversee the transition.
Jones, who has been with the firm for 20 years, spending the last three as senior partner, will join KPMG's corporate finance team in July as an equity partner where it is understood the average salary is £256,000.
He denied that he was moving for the money. He was approached by KPMG at the end of last year.
Retallack admitted that 1997, which saw the public breakdown of talks with Pinsent Curtis and a series of raids on his firm's lawyers by Dibb Lupton Alsop, had been a 'difficult year'.
He said: 'The position at that time was that the firm was considering whether it had to merge following significant staff losses, but the decision was not to merge having re-examined the firm's direction.'
He added: 'Associating Jones with the breakdown of the Pinsent Curtis merger talks last year would be unfair, and that a merger for the firm is now categorically ruled out.'