Blake Lapthorn joins with Linnells for Oxford assault

Blake Lapthorn is making a bid to challenge the Oxford branches of Morgan Cole and Manches by merging with local firm Linnells

As Blake Lapthorn's largest merger to date, the deal will net a combined turnover of £32m from offices along the A34 from Oxford to Southampton.

In 2001 Linnells was set to create the first Oxbridge law firm through a merger with Cambridge-based Hewitson Becke + Shaw but talks foundered at the last minute.

Blake Lapthorn, which merged with 12-partner Portsmouth practice Sherwin Oliver 18 months ago, decided this past year that it wanted to expand out of the South Coast area. The firm, which also has offices in Fareham, London and Southampton, identified Oxford as a market with development potential. Agent EJ Mergers subsequently put the firm in touch with Linnells. Blake Lapthorn currently has 57 partners to Linnells' 22.

“By bringing our resources together, we realised we could compete very well with Morgan Cole and Manches,” said Blake Lapthorn managing partner Walter Cha, who will retain his role at the merged firm. Linnells' media and publishing practice, which acts for Blackwells publishers, will add a new skill set to Blake Lapthorn's offering. Cha said: “We can take advantage of that and they can capitalise on our resources in employment, tax, pensions and corporate finance.”

The two firms share Berkeley Homes as a client. Linnells also acts for Oxfam and many of the Oxford University colleges, while Blake Lapthorn counts Whitbread, Alcatel, Zurich Financial Services, Kerry Foods, Cobham Group and the South East England Development Agency (See-da) among its clients.

The merged firm, to be known as Blake Lapthorn Linnell from 1 May, will adopt the larger firm's management board structure. Linnells' senior and managing partners will join the board, while Blake Lapthorn's senior partner will retain his role.

An employment partner, a corporate partner and Blake Lapthorn's director of marketing will relocate to Oxford to aid integration. Cha himself expects to spend two days a week there.