DWF recovers from shelved Cobbetts talks with Biggart Baillie deal

Manchester headquartered DWF and Scotland’s Biggart Baillie have confirmed that they will merge to create a near £120m firm.

Andrew Leaitherland
Andrew Leaitherland

Talk about a potential merger between DWF and Biggart Baillie had been in the market for a number of months, according to sources in Scotland, but this intensified in recent weeks.

Following a story on TheLawyer.com, the two firms issued a statement confirming that they plan to merge on 1 July. It is not yet known what the merged firm will be called.

In a statement DWF managing partner Andrew Leaitherland said: “We have ambitious growth plans and are always looking for ways to enhance our offering for clients and strengthen our UK-wide presence.

“Similarly, Biggart Baillie was keen to continue to expand and provide increased services for its growing client base outside of Scotland. For a merger like this to truly succeed, it’s essential that you link with like-minded businesses, and Biggart Baillie’s values-driven approach and commitment to growth is a perfect fit with DWF.”

Biggart Baillie managing partner Alasdair Peacock added: “These are exciting times in a rapidly changing legal market. Competition is fierce and this merger will enhance our ability to continue to compete at the top end of the market on quality and sector expertise.

“DWF’s remarkable growth story is an obvious attraction and we’re delighted to be part of that. The cultural fit is strong and our clients operating in Scotland and England will benefit from increased strength in depth, and also geographical coverage.”

The firm will initially be branded as DWF Biggart Baillie in Scotland and will remain DWF elsewhere. It is not clear whether ’Biggart Baillie’ will eventualy be dropped from the Scottish arm’s name.

The merged firm will have a combined turnover of around £118.2m, based on DWF’s 2011-12 turnover and Biggart Baillie’s 2010-11 turnover. The combined firm will also have around 166 partners in 12 offices across London, the Midlands, the north of England and Scotland.

DWF’s turnover rose 23 per cent in 2011-12, from £83m to £102m, according to the firm (1 June 2012). Average profit per equity partner (PEP) also grew, rising seven per cent from £388,000 to £415,000 over the same period.

The firm has had an acquisitive 12 months, launching in Birmingham in July 2011 (28 July 2011), taking over Newcastle firm Crutes in January 2012 (25 November 2011), and bolting on Birmingham and Coventry firm Buller Jeffries in April 2012 (2 April 2012). DWF also came close to securing a merger with fellow Manchester firm Cobbetts, but talks fell through with both parties citing market difficulties for the collapse (31 January 2012).

Biggart Baillie has not yet posted its results for 2011-12, but in 2010-11 the firm had a stable year, posting revenue of £16.2m. In that year the firm became more profitable, with average PEP rising 25 per cent to £171,000. This growth was down to disposing of surplus property and aggressively managing supplier costs, according to the firm.

Scotland’s legal market has experienced rapid consolidation this year, with firms looking to tie up with practices based in England.

Earlier this year Scottish firm McGrigors and Pinsent Masons merged, creating a £282m firm with over 1,500 lawyers (6 February 2012). In March, DAC Beachcroft revealed that it was taking over Andersons and two months later Bristol’s TLT announced that it was going to merge with Anderson Fyfe (9 May 2012).

There have also been numerous failed mergers that have made the news. In October 2011, Bircham Dyson Bell and Dundas & Wilson pulled out of merger talks (10 October 2011) while in March this year it was revealed that Bond Pearce and Maclay Murray & Spens had called off merger discussions for commercial reasons (14 March 2012).