Law: The merging of two firms brings benefits all round: New competition has come to the West Midlands, reports Sharon Wallach

DIBB LUPTON BROOMHEAD is to merge with Needham & James, one of the top six firms in the West Midlands. The new firm, which will retain the Dibb Lupton Broomhead name, will have 120 partners and more than 460 fee- earners, bringing it into the top ten law firms in England and Wales.

Dibb Lupton already has offices in Leeds, London, Manchester, Sheffield and Bradford. According to the firm's senior partner, Robin Smith, the addition of a Birmingham base has been on its agenda since 1988, when the strategy to become a national firm was tabled. It was, he says, a question of finding a suitable firm with which to merge, adding that discussions with Needham & James had been taking place for the past 18 months.

The lead partner in the Birmingham office will be John Winkworth-Smith, who has been with Dibb Lupton for more than 20 years and is currently a partner based in the Sheffield office. He acknowledges that there is tough competition in Birmingham - particularly from what The Legal 500 calls the Big Four, Edge & Ellison, Evershed Wells & Hind, Pinsent & Co and Wragge & Co - but says that 'a competitive legal market breeds excellence, which is good news for the local business community.'

The merger, officially timed for 1 December, also appears to have much to offer Needham & James. Its managing partner, Alan Jones, says it will be able to offer clients a wider range of specialist legal services, supported by 'national resources that are among the best in the country'.

But half a dozen partners and 30 support staff at Needham & James's Stratford-upon-Avon office are not joining the merged firm and the office will operate independently under the Needham & James name. According to Andrew Wolfe, the senior partner, the firm will continue with its commercial and private client work. 'We are looking forward to the new opportunities which will now be opened up by our independence,' he says.

The former managing partner of Needham & James's Birmingham office, John Pratt, has also left to join Pinsent & Co. So where now for Dibb Lupton? Robin Smith says there are no current plans for further UK offices. 'The next move is to concentrate on exploiting our strengths,' he says. 'These are twofold. First, by virtue of our national structure, our lawyers have experience of all the UK regions and the City. It is a distinctive operation.

'Secondly, we have a lower cost base than our competitors, and we must safeguard and improve this.'

(Photograph omitted)

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