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95% of top law firms predict ‘massive consolidation’ over next two years

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The firm you join as a trainee may not be the firm at which you qualify

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More mergers are on the way, despite the wave of law firm tie-ups that have already swept the legal market since the financial crisis of 2008, according to new research.

The study, by legal PR firm Byfield Consultancy and City law firm Fox Williams, found that 95% of managing partners at the UK’s top 200 law firms predict “massive consolidation” of the legal market over the next two years.

Yet experience suggests that all the upheaval of a tie-up may be a waste of time, with only 43% of managing partners at recently-merged firms rating the majority of mergers of the last five years as a success. 21% expressly said they had been a failure, while the rest declined to answer.

Of the managing partners who had not gone through a tie-up themselves, only 24% said that most mergers had succeeded, while 49% said they had not.

Taken as a whole, the findings reveal a worrying mindset at the top of leading law firms — and give weight to the suspicion that many senior partners aspire simply to cash in on a big money tie-up and then hit the ejector seat, leaving junior lawyers to clean up the mess.

During the last frenzy of law firm merger mania between 2009-11, it was the youngest who suffered most. Some rookies found themselves ditched amid a squeeze in newly qualified positions, while others ended up doing their training contracts across several firms as they were gobbled up by progressively bigger fish.

Of the findings, Tina Williams, Fox Williams’ head of professional practices, said:

“It is clear that successful mergers require a clear strategy, efficient implementation and huge efforts in integration. This report is a timely reminder that the sophistication and professionalism that firms display when executing mergers for their clients is not always reflected when dealing with their own businesses.”

Last week Dentons merged with China’s Dacheng to become the biggest law firm by headcount in the world. Other recent high profile tie-ups include Wragge & Co’s combination with Lawrence Graham and CMS Cameron McKenna’s merger with Dundas Wilson.