Newcastle law firm Womble Bond Dickinson is holding merger talks with UK rival BDB Pitmans in a move that could create a £129m turnover company employing nearly 1,500 people.
The early stage talks were confirmed by the firms in a joint statement that came as new Womble Bond Dickinson (UK) accounts showed the North East's largest law firm boosted turnover by nearly 9% in its latest financial year, despite what it called a challenging market.
A joint statement from the firms said: "Leading transatlantic law firm Womble Bond Dickinson and leading UK firm BDB Pitmans confirm that they are in early discussions around a potential merger. Both firms regularly review opportunities to advance the best interests of their clients and their respective firms.
"Womble Bond Dickinson and BDB Pitmans are focused on where they see the greatest opportunities for a merged business, including those offered by complementary practice areas and office locations. As discussions are ongoing, both firms have no further information to share at this time."
Newly published accounts for Womble Bond Dickinson - which saw UK managing partner Paul Stewart take over from Jonathan Blair in February - show that while turnover grew 8.7% to £114.89m in the year to the end of April 2022, operating profit fell from £31.9m to £29.7m. The firm highlighted new client wins and a renewed demand for legal advice coming out of the pandemic.
BDB Pitmans, the smaller of the two firms, saw turnover of £54.8m in the year to the end of May 2021, up from £52.2m the year before. Operating profit at the firm, which employs nearly 400 staff including 219 fee earners, rose from £14.3m to £16.5m in the period. In the most recent accounts, Pitmans talked of "substantial opportunities for growth" across its business.
Meanwhile Womble Bond Dickinson - formerly Dickinson Dees and then Bond Dickinson - indicated its 2017 merger with US firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice was bearing fruit. Its transatlantic ties, along with membership of the global Lex Mundi network of legal firms and an alliance with German outfit Redeker Sellner Dahs were all said to be providing referrals.
During the period overall headcount grew at Womble Bond Dickson thanks to the addition of 32 fee earners, though numbers of support staff fell by 25. The number of partners entitled to a share of the profits decreased by 16 and the largest entitlement rose for the third year running, from £442,000 in 2020 to £528,000.
In a report accompanying the accounts signed by Paul Stewart, the firm said: "As the UK emerges from the pandemic, we have continued to see an uptick in demand for legal services. Nevertheless, we have continued to ensure that careful cost management remains a core discipline in the firm.
"This will remain important as we head into an inflationary environment with significant pressure on salaries and uncertainty in the global economy. As an example, we have moved to new offices in Newcastle early in the new financial year, which represents a significant upgrade in our largest office, but which also delivers material cost savings by enabling collaborative hybrid work within less overall space.
"As disclosed in last year's accounts, the firm had made use of the Government's Job Retention Scheme in the first year of the pandemic. However, the furlough grant was repaid in full in July 2021."
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