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Midlands' merger mayhem
Merger fever is sweeping the Midlands, with three separate tie-ups being sealed during the past month.
Gateley Wareing was the first off the mark, completing its merger with Scottish firm Henderson Boyd Jackson, as reported on www.thelawyer.com (3 January). The new firm, which will be known as HBJ Gateley Wareing, will have offices in Birmingham, Leicester, Nottingham, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
With a combined 58 partners and 230 fee-earners, the newly merged firm is expected to become one of the UK's top 100 law businesses. It has estimated a fee income in excess of £29m in its first full financial year.
HBJ Gateley Wareing will be led by a management team which will include senior partners Malcolm McPherson and Mike Ward, finance director Martyn Finnigan, chief executive Stewart McIntyre and partners Fraser Jackson and Andrew Madden.
Smaller West Midlands firms Cartwright & Lewis and Challinors were quick to follow suit in announcing their merger.
The new firm, which will be known as Challinors Incorporating Cartwright & Lewis, is expected to be one of the region's top 10 law firms. The merger was first revealed on www.thelawyer.com (25 January).
The partnership will come into effect on 1 April, with 34 partners and 120 fee-earners set to join. It will retain offices in Birmingham, West Bromwich, Edgbaston, Harborne and Northfield.
A management board, including three partners and chief executive David Higson, will head the firm, under the chairmanship of Trevor Lee.
Lee says: "This imminent merger represents a turning point in [our] respective histories. Both firms benefit from a shared strategic vision."
Challinors specialises in clinical negligence, corporate, family law, conveyancing, personal injury (PI), litigation and employment. Cartwright offers services in PI, family law, conveyancing corporate and private client work.
Meanwhile, Midlands firm MFG Solicitors has merged with Simon Bishop & Partners in a bid to boost its commercial property practice. MFG officially acquired the two-partner Droitwich firm on 1 January (as first reported on www.thelawyer. com, 3 January).
Simon Bishop & Partners former managing partner Simon Bishop will work with MFG as a consultant, while Simon Cook was appointed partner.
Simon Bishop & Partners has built up a niche practice, specialising in working for commercial property developers.
MFG managing partner Maynard Burton says: "This acquisition is part of the firm's continued plan to build a strong regional presence and develop key work areas."
MFG was created from the merged practices of Worcestershire and West Midlands law firm Morton Fisher and Gwynnes of Shropshire.
Barnes bags Howes Percival hot seat
There has been a change in the East Midlands as well.
As first reported on www.thelawyer.com (15 November 2006), Howes Percival partner Andrew Barnes has been elected as the firm's new managing partner.
Barnes was one of the founding members of the four-office firm. He will succeed Alan Kefford, who has served as the firm's managing partner for the past 16 years.
Barnes says the firm's strategy is to become one of the key players in East Anglia and the East Midlands. "Our aim is to be up there with firms such as Mills & Reeve and Eversheds. With the growing level of economic activity in Norfolk and East Anglia, we hope to build on that and take the firm to new levels," he explains.
Martineaus poaches Nabarros partner
Lateral movements have also been afoot, with Martineau Johnson luring Nabarro Nathan-son partner Mario Conti for its pensions team (as first reported on www.thelawyer.com, 28 December 2006).
Conti was formerly an equity partner and member of the partnership board at Nabarros. He will join Martineaus' pensions group to work on merging and restructuring pension schemes.
Conti is a qualified barrister and was called to the bar almost 30 years ago.
Lobbyists demand regional HCJs
Even those on the outside looking in have been watching the Midlands legal community, with Birming-ham businessmen lobbying the Government for the right to have High Court judges (HCJs) resident in the city.
A report released last month revealed that making up to six HCJs resident in the Midlands could save business between £1.8m and £2.4m each year.
The findings were published to form part of a response to the Department for Constitutional Affair's consultation regarding judicial resources.
The submission was spearheaded by professional and financial services lobby group Birmingham Forward, which includes the Birmingham Law Society and regional barristers' sets St Phillips Chambers and No 5 Chambers.
Commenting on the report, Birmingham Forward chief executive Simon Murphy says: "The current system, which sees HCJs visiting the regions on a circuit basis, dates back nearly 40 years. The political and economic structure of the country has changed considerably in that time and the judicial system needs to evolve to reflect this.
"Only last week, a Midlands barrister was reprimanded for arriving late for a High Court hearing at 11am, despite leaving home at 5am. The costs of such increased journey times and overnight stays all add to the costs of a case and place regionally based legal professionals at a significant competitive disadvantage to their London counterparts."
Birmingham Law Society president and partner at Alexander Harris Richard Follis says the fall in the number of days sat by HCJs in the region was worrying, given the increased demand. "Many regionally based litigants can't afford the additional costs of having their cases heard in London, so they're left with a stark choice: either have your case heard by a less senior judge in the Midlands, or drop the case," he says. "The Government is committed to regionalisation. Why not regionalise the service delivered by the High Court bench?"
Current protocol does not allow HCJs to sit permanently in the provinces. In the past, the argument has been that the independence of judges would be affected if they came to be too closely identified with a particular region.