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They want us to believe it’s a match made in law firm heaven. Edge Ellison and Hammond Suddards have come together — and lo, Hammond Suddard Edge, the UK’s seventh biggest firm, is born. Should the Magic Circle be watching their backs for competition? Or is the new firm — like so many other mergers — borne out of troubles that it will not remedy, and instead will lead to new strife? Chris Jones, Hammond Suddards’ senior partner who is set to continue his role in the new firm alongside Gil Hayward of Edge Ellison, says: “Regionally it’s a very complementary arrangement �- Edge Ellison didn’t have a presence in Leeds or Manchester — we needed to get into Birmingham. “Practice-wise, we’ve got that great corporate overlap, but then Edge Ellison cover many areas that will add to our portfolio — media and advertising work amongst others.” Others in the industry have been quick to congratulate the new partnership. Nigel Knowles, managing partner at DLA, which is now rivalled in size by Hammond Suddards Edge, says: “Both firms have needed to do something, and now they’ve done it together. Good luck to them both.” The presence of three client premiership teams — Hammond Suddards already look after Bradford, Edge Ellison Leicester and Aston Villa — will no doubt further aid matters on the PR front. But you don’t need to dig very deep to sense trouble. For starters, how much is this going to be a genuine merger? Hammond Suddards will definitely have the upper hand in arrangements. Significantly, the new name relegates Edge to last place. Edge Ellison’s city partners are going to find themselves leaving their own offices — where the lease is soon to expire — and relocating at Hammond Suddards in Devonshire Square. This is not a simple matter of geography: Chris Jones admits Edge Ellison’s people will be incorporated into the structure of Hammond business teams. Quentin Poole, managing partner of Wragge & Co, comments: “Like the saying goes, there’s no such thing as a merger. Edge Ellison has been phased into Hammond Suddards.” As Poole and many other industry observers see it, Edge Ellison’s need to take action has been becoming increasingly clear. “Their London office has been doing well, but Birmingham has been struggling. They needed to do something to give themselves a lift. “Birmingham was in serious danger of going into a downward spiral of client attrition, partner attrition — that’s why the management have taken pre-emptive action now.” The need for action at Edge Ellison is no news. It was in 1998 that managing partner Simon Ramshaw — now about to depart to form his own training consultancy — and senior partner James Retallack felt forced by events to produce “The Way Forward”. This restructuring manifesto had some positive effect. The London office has consolidated and strengthened, but Birmingham’s problems have simply grown. Profit shares have only highlighted Edge Ellison’s inability to pick up new business in the Midlands. While partners at rival Birmingham firms such as Wragge & Co and Pinsent Curtis can currently expect to pick up some �250,000 each year, Edge Ellison are lagging some �100,000 behind. Edge Ellison’s partner lockout agreement expires next year. With profits at this level, the fear was a partner haemorrhage that could mortally wound the Birmingham operation. The urgency of the situation is highlighted by the speed of events. Edge Ellison began talks with Hammond Suddards only 8 May — not so much of a courtship, more of a shotgun marriage. Such desperation is never an attractive quality. What do Hammond Suddards gain from the transaction? Quentin Poole is in little doubt. “Hammond Suddards have made it very clear their first, second and third priorities are the City. “What’s really in it for Hammond Suddards is London, where the merger helps to raise them to critical mass. “But Hammond Suddards have invested a considerable amount with Saatchi and Saatchi to upgrade their image. The trouble is this move doesn’t push them up a league, it’s simply more of the same.” Departures of one sort or another can be expected. Some partners and associates might be unhappy with the fact of merger in the first place; others, through no fault of their own, may well find themselves victims of logistical redeployment. Poole makes no bones about the possible benefits for Wragge & Co. “It’s good news from our point of view — this move could well throw up recruitment opportunities for ourselves.” Legal business expert Robert Pay, managing director of Jaffe Associates, agrees departures could ensue. “There may well be some fall-out,” he says. But Pay refuses to be part of the doom-mongering that is inevitably thrown up by rival gossip in the wake of any merger. “Departures are not in themselves a problem. The key thing is not if you lose anybody at all, but just who it is that leaves. What’s important is to keep your key people. “Even if Edge Ellison have disappointed in recent years, they’re still a pretty good name. By coming together with Hammond Suddards they are increasing their presence across the board. Regional mergers are part of the inexorable move towards cross-border capability.” Whatever changes may take place in London, Edge Ellison can expect to see extensive rationalisation in the regions. The Leicester operation is set to close — letters have already been sent out. Doubling up with Hammond Suddards in London seems sure to result in a reduced force in Birmingham, where, says a senior source at one leading firm, “there’s a lot of dead wood to be cut away”. Hammond Suddards Edge will be increasingly focused in the capital. London will be the real test-bed of the merger’s success. “It’s a dangerous move to merge for just one part,” warns one observer. “There’s a lot of work that’ll need doing. They’ve bitten off a lot, and they’re going to have to spend a lot of time sorting it out.”

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