Insurance firm Ince & Co is discreetly sounding out firms for a possible tie-up, The Lawyer understands.
Responding to The Lawyer, WFW managing partner Chris Lowe said he had “sat down” with Ince management and “listened to what they have to say”.
Ince senior partner Jan Heuvels added the firms had “met to discuss business issues”, but denied formal merger talks had taken place.
A merger between WFW and Ince would create a shipping, energy and insurance powerhouse with revenues close to £200m. WFW’s turnover increased by 7 per cent to £125m in 2014/15.
WFW’s strong shipping finance department has furthered rumours of early-stage merger discussions.
Ince’s turnover fell by 8 per cent last year, from £86.7m to £79.4m. The figures signalled a continued downturn in revenue, which fell by 7 per cent from £93.2m in 2012/13. Profits are also understood to have dipped year on year.
The firm has also lost a number of partners this year, such as Bob Deering who left the firm in July to set up BDM Legal. Deering, a senior shipping lawyer, had worked at Ince for 40 years and led the establishment of its Dubai office. Piracy litigator Stephen Askins, who added to the firm’s traditionally strong casualty practice, left in April to join Tatham Macinnes.
A source close to the firm said it had a “150-year tradition of very few exits” to competitors or to set up boutiques, though this has “all changed” in the past 12 months, which has seen around 20 senior departures.
Ince has carried out two redundancy consultations in its London practice over the last 18 months. The latest round of cuts resulted in six partners and 10 legal secretaries leaving the firm.
Last April the firm cut 16 lawyer and legal staff roles. The cuts affected 10 fee-earners in the firm’s insurance and shipping practices as well as six secretarial staff.
Sources in the shipping insurance market also claimed that the Ince management had mooted moving from its Tower Hill office to a smaller premises in London.