‘Buffeted from both sides’: City partners react as Clyde & Co and BLM finalise merger

With partners from Clyde & Co and BLM recently voting through their £700m merger, observers have offered conflicting views on what the tie-up means for the market.

Legal Business broke the news on 18 March that a partnership vote was imminent, and Clyde confirmed on 28 March that the vote had passed, with the combination to go live in July 2022.

In terms of the key stats, the merged firm, which will still be known as Clyde & Co, will comfortably break £700m in combined revenues, have an overall headcount of 5,000, and boast offices in more than 60 cities worldwide. As for fee-earners, post-merger, the firm will have around 2,600 lawyers and close to 500 equity partners.

A statement made it clear that the tie-up is an insurance play, which is no surprise. Clyde & Co has historically been strong in advisory and contentious insurance work, and BLM has a market-leading niche casualty insurance practice. The statement read: ‘The majority of [BLM’s] lawyers will join [Clyde & Co’s] casualty insurance practice, with other sizable groups joining the professional liability, healthcare and business advisory teams.’

James Cooper, partner and chair of the firm’s global insurance practice group, said: ‘We have long sought to increase the scale of our UK casualty insurance practice though a merger so we can provide the full scope of services, technology, data analytics and innovation that clients in this dynamic part of the market require. Once we started speaking to BLM, we quickly realised that we shared the same approach to client service, had a complementary client roster and similar ambitions in this space.

‘This combination will also boost our regional UK presence and strengthen our healthcare and professional liability offerings too.’ On the office front, the tie-up adds new outposts in Birmingham, Liverpool and Southampton to Clyde & Co’s UK coverage.

The move did not shock insurance partners at rival firms, with the tie-up having featured in market chatter for close to a year. Generally, the merger has been well-received, and viewed as symptomatic of a consolidating insurance market that has refined legal services to a binary between high-end advisory work and high-volume claims work. Typically, Clyde has embodied the former while BLM’s casualty practice fits into the latter.

A recent example, in January 2021 Kennedys opened in Leeds via the takeover of Langleys’ insurance team. The move gave Kennedys coverage in high-volume aspects of insurance, such as motor liability matters and a practice that provides pre-litigated claims handling services to insurers and self-retained corporations.

Richard Leedham, a litigation partner at Mishcon de Reya with extensive experience in the insurance market, told Legal Business: ‘We see consolidation on the defence side all the time, this is just the latest iteration of what firms such as Clyde and Kennedys have been doing. The merger doesn’t surprise me at all – it is likely driven by rates, economies of scale and keeping prices down for their insurer clients.’

Zulon Begum, a partnership law partner and specialist in law firm mergers at CM Murray, added: ‘Coming out of Covid, we are getting lots of enquiries from firms looking to merge or seek external investment. I predict there is going to be lots of activity this year in terms of mergers and IPOs.

‘It’s always the mid-market that you fear for, being buffeted from both sides by the big firms and boutiques. Then you have the likes of the Big Four accountancy firms, which can leverage their multidisciplinary experience and take work from the mid-market – they’re not going to compete with the likes of Slaughter and May and Linklaters, they’re going after the mid-market firms that don’t have the same brand power.’

However, a litigation partner at a leading insurance firm suggested the consolidation trend is phasing out: ‘I don’t sense there is a huge client push for further consolidation. Procurement has a heavy influence of course, but their sole objective is not necessarily to reduce panel sizes. They still need access to the right legal expertise and too few panel firms leaves them with conflict issues and, in the end, having to appoint more firms off panel.’

The merger is Clyde & Co’s biggest in terms of revenue and headcount since it merged with Barlow Lyde & Gilbert in 2011, which was the largest-ever merger of two UK law firms at the time. Since then, Clyde’s recent history has been peppered with tie-ups. In October 2015 it merged with Scottish residential property specialist Simpson & Marwick, adding 45 partners in the process. The following year, a combination was agreed in Sydney with Lee & Lyons, adding five partners and over 25 lawyers. In 2018, 15 partners and 65 other lawyers and staff were brought in via a merger with California firm Sedgwick, and in July last year, Clyde combined with Vancouver-based SHK Law Corporation, which brought six partners and 18 lawyers in total.


This article first appeared on Legal Business