Revived fortunes

The trend for mergers continues unabated. The two largest firms in Leicester – Harvey Ingram and Owstons – merged this month to form Harvey Ingram Owston, based at Harvey Ingram's existing offices and now with 76 fee earners.

One of the merged firm's joint managers, Roger Bowder, says: “We plan to start providing some areas of legal advice that, until now, Leicester clients have had to go to London for.”

And while Nottingham's civic leaders are trying to reform their city's image and end its famous association with the legend of Robin Hood, the legal marketplace in the East Midlands remains constant.

The merger by Nottingham firms Freeth Cartwright and Hunt Dickins was the main change in the legal arena, and was followed by its opening of an office in Derby in April 1995. Chief executive Colin Flanagan says: “It was felt the move would plug a gap in the market. Derby is a city that has room for another player to join Edwards Geldard, Eversheds, Flint Bishop & Barnett.”

And as a sign of the upturn in the legal marketplace, Flints recently moved its commercial, tax and financial services departments to new premises.

Nottingham itself remains dominated by the larger firms including Eversheds, Browne Jacobson and Shoosmiths & Harrison. And there is a general trend towards greater specialisation to cater for new markets, with Eversheds expanding its public sector expertise to include two new lawyers, one with local government expertise and the other with health sector experience. Another area being targeted is education.

The traditional areas of law practised in the region, such as textiles, the automotive industry and licensing, are also expanding. Litigation is another boom area. This is illustrated by Nottingham firm Eking Mannings, which is expanding its current offices by consolidating its two existing offices and taking over the building in between. Other firms thriving on the litigation side include Nelsons and Robin Thompson & Partners, as well as Browne Jacobson on the defendants' side. One concern, says Ekings partner Martin Gotheridge, continues to be legal aid franchising and the fact that insurers are limiting the number of law firms they instruct.

But it is not just in the East Midlands that firms are making expansive moves. In the last year, Coventry firm Blakemores opened an office in Tamworth, Walsall firm Hadens extended its criminal office, and Challinors opened its head office in Edgbaston in July 1995.

Eversheds in Birmingham will be moving to new premises in 1998, and Shoosmiths in Northampton is also in the process of moving. High levels of optimism are illustrated by the fact that many firms with fewer than 40 fee earners are considering opening offices in the near future.