Bircham Dyson Bell strengthens private client with Ambrose Appelbe merger

Bircham Dyson Bell is to merge with four-partner private client boutique Ambrose Appelbe, adding around £2m to its top line.

The Lincoln’s Inn firm will move to Bircham Dyson Bell’s Victoria offices on 1 April, when the merger takes effect. All four of Ambrose Appelbe’s partners – family specialists Lisa Bolgar Smith and Terrence Trainor, private client lawyer Lucie Sleeman, and litigator James Freemantle – will become partners at the combined firm.

Bircham Dyson Bell managing partner Jesper Christensen said he had approached Ambrose Appelbe some time ago on a speculative basis, with a view to strengthening the firm’s family and private client teams.

“It sits very well as far as we’re concerned,” Christensen said.

Ambrose Appelbe consultant Felix Appelbe, the son of the firm’s founder Ambrose, said the firm had been approached by various outfits a number of times in the past, but had rejected the advances. He said Bircham Dyson Bell seemed to share the smaller firm’s ethos, and the merger was a complementary fit with the larger firm’s practice areas expanding the offering to Ambrose Appelbe’s existing client base.

“They have other skills that we haven’t been able to field as much,” he said. “We want to open more doors for our clients.”

Appelbe added: “We didn’t have to do this but we felt the time was right. As far as our clients are concerned, it’s business as usual, but we can do the extra things that before we couldn’t have done.”

Christensen said all Ambrose Appelbe’s staff and fee-earners would move to Bircham Dyson Bell with no redundancies.

Further growth is likely for Bircham Dyson Bell across its key practice areas of government and infrastructure, real estate private wealth, litigation, corporate, charities and employment. Chief operating officer Mark Jones said further mergers could not be ruled out, but lateral hiring was also likely.

At the start of the current financial year the firm moved to a single equity structure, which Jones said had made the firm more appealing to potential laterals or merger partners (6 August 2013).

Bircham Dyson Bell’s 2012/13 LLP accounts, filed last week with Companies House, confirm a rise in turnover and profit together with a sizeable reduction in net debt for the last financial year. Revenues rose 1.3 per cent, from £30.9m to £31.2m, while net profit was up 9 per cent, from £8.4m to £9.1m.

The firm cut its bank loan by almost a quarter, from £364,000 to £280,000, with its overdraft falling by more than a third, from £2.7m to £1.7m. The reduction led to a 35 per cent fall in net debt, from just over £3m in 2011/12 to £1.9m last year.

The accounts show that the amount due to the highest-paid LLP member in 2012/13 was £326,000, up 10 per cent from £296,000 the previous year. The firm’s headcount dropped from 221 fee-earners and staff in 2011/12 to 206 last year, while staff costs fell from £13.1m to £12.9m. The amount due to members paid under an employment contract – who are now all equity members following the restructure – fell from £1.3m in 2011/12 to £1.1m last year.