Proving whole is greater than its parts

THE WEDDING of medium-sized City firm Jaques & Lewis to Eversheds and the decision to adopt the Eversheds branding throughout the group from May marks the end of the beginning.

The resultant combination in figure terms is impressive, second in national terms and fifth in world terms. Though Eversheds' real impact is only going to be significant in UK terms for some time to come. To talk of it challenging the great global firms at this stage is optimistic.

But the dream of a number of lawyers in a few moderately sized regional firms to come together to create a new force in UK legal services is being realised. And with this substantial new member on board, they will only have themselves to blame if the potential is not realised. They will have to show they are pulling in major clients.

The partners are right to shrug off the gibe from the big City firms about not being a firm unless there is profit sharing throughout. Eversheds' comparison of its approach to national accountancy practices with a variety of regional profit centres is quite valid.

Clients are not usually interested in a firm's profit distribution, so long as the quality of advice and its delivery meets their needs. This is where the real challenge will be: to offer a uniformly high standard throughout. Nothing less than the pulling up of all aspects of practice in every office to the standards of the best should be acceptable.

The move to create expert practice groups within the firm is a step on the way. But high standards will need disciplines imposed centrally and more functions controlled from a centre. Marketing seems to have been a free for all. Recruitment and personnel will require uniform treatment.

The lesson of the accountants is that the creation of a national firm is a cultural matter with give and take in the overriding common interest. Only then can the whole be greater than the parts.