Merger proves that opposites attract

The news that Dibb Lupton Broomhead and Alsop Wilkinson are in merger talks has prompted the question – does it make sense? Observers believe the answer is “yes” in London. But on a national level it is more difficult to see the advantages for Alsops.

Observers have tended to ask why Dibbs should want to merge with Alsops. Dibbs is the larger and more aggressively expansionist of the two. However, Alsops has a more cohesive London practice, with a good financial services practice (particularly in banking and the buoyant shipping law work), a cracking name in pensions and a plc client list. And the firm's Liverpool office is the clear leader in what is still a large commercial centre.

But why should Alsops want to merge with Dibbs? The extra numbers in London would add to the status of the firm and give prestige through size, and the insurance team would certainly be welcome. And the banking lawyers would enjoy access to Dibbs' Leeds banks and building societies.

Nationally, Dibbs also has a top-notch employment department and leading-edge teams in emerging areas, such as regulatory work and servicing the big South Yorkshire plcs. However, its share of plc clients in Leeds is small, although it it is noted for its bank and building society work.

Another potential problem for Alsops in this merger is its relationship with the Legal Resources Group. Alsops would almost certainly have to leave the group – Dibbs already has offices in Leeds and Birmingham, where the group has members. But this would strip Alsops of its Brussels office, shared with other LRG members. The firm would also have to confront the issue of educating its trainees; the LRG has a top reputation for training.

The question of culture is also interesting.

Dibbs' reputation for asset-picking is overstated. The firms it has taken over, which are equal in status, faced big internal problems. This time the cultural gap appears in the way Dibbs addresses the problems. Alsops has always been emollient and patient. Dibb Lupton has been swift and authoritative.

The reality is that both firms have a very different approach to building a national firm. Dibbs has done best by recruiting good individuals, Alsops by gently moulding big firms into its own image.

Marriage between both firms will be an interesting experience.