Speechly Bircham and Withers merger vote just days away

Withers and Speechly Bircham will vote next week on whether the two firms should merge to create a £170m firm, The Lawyer has learned.

Adam Duthie
Adam Duthie

Both firms are holding an interim vote next week – Speechly on Tuesday (21 May) and Withers on Wednesday (23 May). Withers said it “will be an opportunity to discuss how negotiations are progressing and whether to move them into a more detailed phase”.

If the merger is ultimately successful, the new firm will be called Withers Speechly Bircham (WSB). In the US it will be Withers Bergman, a result of the firm’s 2002 merger with New York firm Bergman Horowitz & Reynolds.

Both firms are holding an interim vote as early as Wednesday on the merger, which, Withers said “will be an opportunity to discuss how negotiations are progressing and whether to move them into a more detailed phase”.

News of the merger talks broke in March (25 March 2013), but both firms have declined to speak publicly about the deal since the confirmation.

A Withers statement read: “In due course there will be an interim vote which is part of a planned timetable of discussions.”

Sources said there was disquiet at Withers about the merger, with the family, disputes and employment team expected to reject the move. It is understood that there are concerns about how profitability will be affected by those groups. One source close to the firm said there was a 50/50 chance of the deal going through.

Another added: “It’s a defensive merger. It started as a concept, but they started to panic as they saw others merging. They didn’t stop to take stock of whether firms came out of those mergers any better than when they went in. Now they can’t seem to stop it, and will end up thinking, this isn’t what I signed up for.”

The vote follows a number of senior level exits from Withers with European corporate head Adam Duthie leaving the firm last month to take up a consultancy role. Duthie joined Withers in 2008 from Bevan Brittan where he headed the corporate practice. His exit follows the departure of media and public law head Jennifer McDermott in January, who joined the firm in 2007 from Addleshaw Goddard.

Since last October Withers has also seen the departure of Pierre Valentin, head of art and cultural assets, to boutique Constantine Cannon and the departure of private client partners David Hirsberg and Astrid Owen. Hirsberg joined US-firm Kaye Scholer in the West Palm Beach office and Owen went McDermott Will & Emery in London.

Speechly too has seen a number of partner departures, with at least twelve exiting since the beginning of the year.

Most recently head of planning and environment Clare Prior left the firm for an unknown destination, following private client partner Sanjvee Shah who quit for Taylor Wessing, employment partner Richard Linskell who has gone to Ogletree Deakins and restructuring specialist Keith Bordell who has gone to Osborne Clarke to head its restructuring department (30 April 2013).