Hill Dickinson in merger talks with Weightmans

Rival firms Weightmans and Hill Dickinson are in the process of merger talks in an attempt to create a north-west insurance giant.

Negotiations are at a preliminary stage but a merger between the two firms would create a 396-strong fee earner practice.

Weightmans partner and member of the policy group Michael Radcliffe says: “Weightmans is continually looking at the best way to provide optimum levels of service and value for its clients.

“I can confirm that preliminary talks have taken place with Hill Dickinson as we both look at ways of facilitating this objective.”

He adds: “These talks are at a very early stage and further comment would be premature.”

Weightmans has been searching for a merger partner for some time after the proposed tripartite link-up with fellow insurance specialists Jacksons and Kennedys fell through in 1998.

But fellow insurance lawyers are mixed in their response to the potential merger.

One source says: “They have been competitors for years – it is like Liverpool and Everton deciding to amalgamate.”

Another senior insurance lawyer says: “It will be an enormous force in the North West. I am surprised but that doesn't mean that I don't think it is a good idea.”

The potential merger coincides with increased consolidation within the insurance sector.

The firms share a number of clients including insurance giant CGU, which recently agreed to merge with Norwich Union to create CGNU, sparking fears of another panel shake-up.

CGU cut its 100-strong line-up to an interim panel of just 18 a year ago while firms working for Norwich Union are currently undergoing an auditing exercise, conducted by ex-Weightmans chief executive Martin Read.

One source says: “I am not sure that it will make sense to Weightmans because Hill Dickinson is very much a personal injury type whereas Weightmans is more involved in EL/PL [employer liability/ public liability] work.

“I know that Weightmans are not into servicing that type of specialist work. I don't know why they let Mike Grant [Manchester-based insurance partner who left to join Addleshaw Booth & Co] who did that sort of work, go.”