National insurance practice Wansbroughs Willey Hargrave is on the brink of taking over Manchester firm Vaudreys. An announcement is expected before mid-February and could come as early as this week.
'Talks between ourselves and Vaudreys are at an advanced stage,' Robert Heslett, senior partner at Wansbroughs, told The Lawyer.
Sixty-partner Wansbroughs, which has its headquarters in Bristol and seven offices and 250 fee earners spread throughout London, the west country, Birmingham and Leeds, has long been seeking to plug the north-western gap in its national coverage.
As much as two-thirds of Wansbroughs' workload is in insurance and related litigation, mainly representing defendants, including Lloyd's syndicates, brokers and underwriters.
Although it also has clients in the health sector and practises in commercial litigation and construction and property, it is on the back of its insurance clients that it is aiming to build itself into a national presence to rival Davies Arnold Cooper and the insurance practice of Dibb Lupton Alsop.
By contrast, Vaudreys which in the event of a merger is expected to be subsumed into Wansbroughs appears to have lost its focus in recent years.
It was in discussions last year over a three-way merger with Booth & Co and Addleshaw Sons & Latham, but was left behind when the two larger firms went ahead to form Addleshaw Booth & Co. Vaudreys was later in unsuccessful talks with Pinsent Curtis.
Vaudreys, which has 14 partners and nearly 50 assistants, claims six areas of specialisation and lists no fewer than 16 practice areas.
Mike Tinker, head of Dibbs' insurance practice in Manchester, pointed out that Vaudreys' insurance clients including Iron Trades, AGF and the self-insurance claims of MFC and British Aerospace constitute a worthwhile prize. 'They have a reputation as a well-respected niche player in defendant insurance and Wansbroughs' interest bears that out,' he said.
On Wansbroughs' strategy of achieving national status in the insurance market, along with Dibbs and DAC, Tinker added: 'They are biting at our heels, although they have a way to go before they catch up. But insurers are looking to establish panels on a national basis so as to be sure of consistent quality of service.'
Nick Rudgard, an insurance partner at DAC in Manchester, commented: 'The deal demonstrates the intense competition in the insurance market, with some firms feeling the need to merge in order to protect their market position.'
Michael Shaw, senior partner at Manchester firm Cobbetts, said: 'This is a smart move for both firms. More resources can be channelled in to Vaudreys' well-regarded insurance practice, while it neatly fills a gap in Wansbroughs' national network.'