Olswang on merger hunt as 2Birds and Simmons targeted

Olswang is in the market for a merger, The Lawyer can reveal.

Chief executive Paul Stevens is understood to have outlined plans for a potential merger at the partnership conference in January.

Sources close to the firm said Olswang was “in talks” with a number of firms including Bird & Bird and Simmons & Simmons, though an insider speculated an unknown US firm was also a possible target.

A merger with Bird & Bird or Simmons would classify as a takeover, with both firms’ revenue and headcount dwarfing Olswang’s.

Stevens is understood to be spearheading the plans, which were first considered last year but have been revived in the last month, according to an insider.

One source said Stevens was pursuing a strategy of becoming leaner and more international in an attempt to attract a merger partner. The decision to merge would follow a year of turbulence and senior exits at the media and technology firm.

Speculation about a merger first hit the headlines following the sudden exit of former CEO David Stewart in October 2014, mid-way through his second three-year term, followed by the successive departures of most of his management team.

Head of strategic development Nigel Rea left to join Lexis Nexis, business development and marketing director Michelle Elstein exited for Morrison & Foerster, general counsel Simon Callendar joined Addleshaw Goddard and veteran HR director Ffion Griffith left for a non-legal position.

The firm also closed in Berlin late last year when its entire 50-lawyer team, including 13 equity partners, decamped for Greenberg Traurig after an announcement that the office was “decoupling” to focus on TMT.

Olswang turned over £126.7m in 2014/15, up 7.7 per cent on the previous year, while average profit per equity partner remained unchanged at £490,000.

A tie-up with Bird & Bird would create a £385m firm across more than 30 offices and with around 1,500 lawyers worldwide.

Meanwhile a merger with Simmons & Simmons would create a £416m firm with around 1,000 lawyers across offices in the UK, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

A spokesperson for Olswang said: “We are not engaged in a merger. Like other firms, we keep our strategy under review in the light of changing market conditions, and it appears this is the basis for this rumour.”

Bird & Bird did not respond to requests for comment. Simmons’ senior partner Colin Passmore declined to comment.