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www.wilkinsonread.co.uk 21 info@wilkinsonread.co.uk

We have observed a number of mergers over the past couple of years, and in some cases they have

been resoundingly successful. These cases are those in which the firms treated the question of due

diligence with great care, and ensured that they knew exactly what the process would entail. Merger

is not a panacea for all law firms in challenging conditions.

The other option is to pursue the niche route. As Steve Kirwan, Managing Director of Staffordshire-

based firm Nowell Meller, says, “the niche road is more attractive – there will always be clients

willing to pay for a good personal service.”

For most firms in the SME section of the market, niche and increasing specialisation are probably the

only real alternative to expansion. This naturally involves excellent service and focused business

development and, as the Managing Partner of a leading Manchester firm, suggests, “knowing your

own clients is key”.

Carving out a niche is not easy, and many firms will find that they have a number of different niches

according to their strengths. A niche is often based on specific sector expertise, but could also be

geographical or based around an innovative delivery model.

There were also differing views on the way approaches to management will develop. Some

participants felt that, just as partners will be unwilling to share their equity with external investors,

so many will be unwilling to cede control, even to a board of their fellow partners. However, others

suggested that – irrespective of how ownership structures change – management will have to

become more corporate in nature. As Simon White argues, “winners will delegate management to

an accountable management team. Especially in the post-ABS world, decisions will often have to be

taken swiftly and actions implemented with purpose. This is difficult when decisions must be

approved by the entire partnership.”

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