Merger of top law firms ends 21-year feud ends with merger

NIC CICUTTI

Three senior partners at one of Britain's largest personal injury and trade union law firms are quitting their jobs in a row over a re-merger of rival practices set up by two feuding brothers.

Colin Ettinger, Sara Lesley and Alison Eddy are leaving Robin Thompson & Partners to set up the London office of a major rival, Irwin Mitchell.

Yesterday, sources claimed their decision to resign followed their opposition to the merger with Brian Thompson & Partners, a firm set up by the brother of their own founder.

The planned fusion of the two Thompson firms will end a 21-year split between their brothers, Robin and Brian, and create Britain's largest employment law specialists.

At recent meetings of both firms' senior partners, the majorities in favour of merger were at least 10 to 1.

But the move is still opposed by some staff, who claimed the junior ranks were not consulted: "There are a number of people, some of them senior, many more below equity partner level, who are not in favour," one insider alleged.

"Some feel that the merger is partly aimed at bailing out Brian Thompson & Partners, which has been less successful in recent years."

The claims were rejected by David Thompson, grandson of the firm's founder, who will head the combined partnership when the fusion is completed.

Mr Thompson said: "It is correct that three of our partners are not joining the new firm. I regret they are not going to be part of it. We will be sorry to lose them.

"Our view is that the market place is getting more competitive. This merger is a means of us becoming more effective."

He denied suggestions of a bail-out by one firm of the other: "Both are highly successful and will gain from the merger."

The two Thompson firms, with 13 offices and almost 750 staff, are widely regarded as the elite among trade union and employment specialists. Last year they won settlements of pounds 119m for union members.

Among the organisations they act for are virtually all the TUC affiliated unions, including those representing engineering and transport workers, teachers, firefighters, printers, bakers and the public sector union, Unison.

The company's head office operates out of TUC headquarters in London and several of its senior staff were in Brighton this week attending the Labour Party conference.

The merger ends a split between Brian and Robin Thompson which dates back to 1974. Both brothers ran the partnership inherited when their father died in 1947. The origins of the feud are believed to relate to political and professional differences. Both brothers, now semi-retired, have given their blessing to the merger.

The three departing partners could not be contacted for comment.

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