Leeds firm Booth & Co is once more believed to be in talks to join forces with Manchester-based Addleshaw Sons & Latham.
Despite official denials from Booth & Co, rumours persist that the two firms will ally and that Manchester IP specialist Vaudreys may later form part of a three-way merger.
Booth & Co and Addleshaws, already allies in the Norton Rose M5 Group, are believed to have stopped short of a full "one-pot" profit sharing merger because differences in relative earnings would mean one firm's per-partner income would end up diluted.
But they are believed to be talking about allying under a single name and a single identity in a cross-Pennine force that could take on the might of Dibb Lupton Broomhead and Hammond Suddards, which have both made deep in-roads in the North recently.
It is thought a merger with Manchester firm Vaudreys,
respected for its strong insurance litigation practice has been put on the back-burner for the time being.
Vaudreys has been talking to several firms, including Addleshaws, about merging. One source said: "At this stage it's just sniffing bottoms."
In November 1994, Booth & Co senior partner Maurice Cowen said discussions with Addleshaws were at an early stage and that merger was one option.
But Paul Lee, Addleshaws managing partner, said merger talks were not on the agenda.
Lee said: "These rumours connecting us with Booths have been going on for three years. It's got to a level where we just don't comment on that kind of speculation."
A spokeswoman for Booth & Co said: "The position has not changed since last year."
Addleshaws is said to have told staff that its mission is to be the leading northern firm in 18 months time.
A managing partner from one of the region's firms said: "How else can they become the firm in the North unless they merge with Booth & Co?"
And one senior Manchester lawyer said: "A merger with Vaudreys would make sense because Addleshaws now has the space and could also obtain Vaudreys' Personal Injury practice."
Addleshaws is to move its two offices into a brand new purpose-built development next to Manchester's Concert Hall in spring 1997.