Smaller firms feel the pinch as legal giants gain ground

Smaller firms in London and the regions are losing public listed clients to the largest national and City firms, according to a survey by business directory The Quarterly Review.

The directory lists all plcs based in the North and Midlands and their principal legal advisers. Its table (below) shows the net changes in the number of plc clients for each firm since December 1996.

The northern plc client base of the top five London firms shrank 5 per cent in the past 18 months while that of the top five regionals grew 9 per cent. Four national firms notably expanded their northern and Midlands plc client base – Eversheds, Dibb Lupton Alsop, Addleshaw Booth & Co and Hammond Suddards.

But smaller regionals lost 17 per cent and small London firms 10 per cent of their plc client base outside the South.

Eversheds still advised more northern and Midlands plcs than any other firm, but it gained five of its extra clients in the past 18 months through its merger with Newcastle firm Wilkinson Maughan.

By contrast, Dibb Lupton Alsop, number two in the table, has added a net five plc clients in the North and Midlands in addition to those it gained from its merger with Alsop Wilkinson in 1996.

David Ansbro, managing partner of Eversheds Leeds, commented: “It's not enough just to have good corporate lawyers. You have got be a certain size in order to retain the sort of back-up services – such as IP, tax and pensions – that clients require.”

John Dyson, editor of The Quarterly Review and corporate services director of asset management company BWD Rensburg, said: “The smaller corporate players in London and the regions are slowly losing business. The question is, can they support the range of services now required by plcs at an appropriate cost?”