On many occasions The Lawyer has commented on the culture of expansion that seems to be gripping the profession. We have cautioned against mindless mergers and the globalisation gold rush, fearing that firms would lose their focus and their steady growth, which have contributed to making them leading UK businesses.
Some firms have steered away from joining the gold rush. Wragge & Co, for example, has been very vocal about the advantages of building a successful and high-profile business from a regional base. So, how are we to read the news that the Birmingham-based firm is to merge with specialist London IP practice Needham & Grant?
City cynics might say the lure of the capital was too much and the firm has bowed to the inevitable. Others may bemoan that another regional stalwart has abandoned the principle of building a regional business for the promise of streets paved with gold.
But maybe the truth is more hopeful. Senior partner John Crabtree tells The Lawyer this week that the merger does not imply a change of strategy. There are no plans to start a full service office, he assures us, and by extension, his clients.
Wragges has seen a specific market, a particular potential partner, and gone for that. It is a tribute to its maturity as a firm that it has not dogmatically hung onto its “never in London” stance.
Of course, behind the soundbites and strategy lies a commercial reality. Regional firms claim – often with justification – that City work can be done from the regions, but as Scottish Power’s head of legal James Stanley comments in this week’s Special Report (pages 27-31), you need the clout of an established City player on your side.
This is the reality. Like it or not, London is important. The crucial thing is not to let the big city lights dazzle. Clear business and client-centred service is even more important in London than it is outside.