Speechlys to swallow Baileys

Fleet Street firm Speechly Bircham is taking over 200-year-old Holborn practice Baileys Shaw & Gillett with the loss of six of Baileys' 20 partners and several other lawyers and support staff.

A further four lawyers and two support staff, who make up Baileys' business immigration practice, which is led by senior assistant Elspeth Guild, are to join Kingsley Napley. Guild will be a partner at Kingsleys.

When the merger takes place on 1 May, Speechlys' managing partner Mark Musgrave will retain the leadership of the enlarged firm, with litigator Stephen Dobson being the only Baileys partner sitting on the new seven-strong management committee.

Baileys partner Mark Hodgkinson said: “We're all quite happy with that, we're just looking forward to getting back to fee earning.”

The plans of the six partners and others who are likely to be made redundant were not clear at the time of going to press.

Speechlys, which has grown in the last 10 years, will stay in Fleet Street for the moment, and will have 42 partners and 110 fee earners, and projected gross fees of £14-£15m in 1997/98. Speechlys has projected fees of £10.5m for this year compared to Baileys' £4-£5m.

Musgrave said the practice had yet to decide whether it would keep on Baileys' Abu Dhabi office and its membership of the Legalliance EEIG, an association of European law firms.

The move represents the end of a traumatic 14-month search by Baileys for a merger partner. In a bid to get rid of its general practice image and concentrate on its key areas – particularly litigation, private client and property – it closed its matrimonial department in spring last year and had to settle out of court when one salaried partner, Pauline Walker, sued over the terms of her redundancy.

The then commercial partner for 18 years, Laurence Kingswood, handed in his notice in September, and moved to Bracher Rawlins, upset at the direction of the firm.

Merger talks with Wedlake Bell, revealed by The Lawyer last November, and conducted in parallel with Speechly Bircham, collapsed in January. Hodgkinson said a merger with Wedlakes “would have been more the formation of a firm”.

Baileys' senior partner, Peter Foster, will become deputy senior partner of the new firm.