Survey findings point to merger as main priority for UK law firms

A survey of UK law firms has revealed that most believe the current spate of merger activity between firms is just the tip of the iceberg.

Almost a third of the participants admitted that a merger was a key strategic aim.
Professional services firm Smith & Williamson sought opinions from half of the UK's top 125 firms – namely managing partners and financial directors – on a number of topical issues. The overriding theme emerging from the results is one of growth. Whether it is through merger, alliances or opening overseas offices, firms are set to get bigger.
Of the respondents, 84 per cent confirmed that they had either approached, or been approached by, another firm with a view to consolidating. A high proportion of those surveyed anticipated a rise in the number of EU-UK mergers, making Europe the main focus of potential expansion, while 29 per cent anticipated an increase in transatlantic link-ups.

“We're seeing a lot of professional practices discussing mergers”
Colin Ives, Smith & Williamson

Smith & Williamson professional practices partner Colin Ives said: “We're seeing a lot of professional practices discussing mergers, but recent talks have become focused on economic and commercial rationale.” He added that firms were becoming increasingly sophisticated in their approach to mergers.
The results also predicted changes in the compensation packages offered to partners. According to the survey, the ability to retain key partners is considered the single most important issue facing firms over the next five years. Traditional lockstep structures could therefore be rejected in favour of merit-based remuneration schemes.
The survey also raised the issue of how law firms would be structured in the future. Respondents were asked about their strategies regarding limited-liability partnerships (LLPs). Only 12 percent had not yet investigated the idea of an LLP; 57 per cent were reviewing the matter; and although 26 per cent had completed an assessment of LLPs, only 5 per cent were implementing their decisions.