21 Oct 2022

Womble Bond Dickinson and UK's BDB Pitmans in merger talks

Deal would create transatlantic firm with around 1,100 fee earners and revenue of more than £500m

Jeremy Reddington

Transatlantic firm Womble Bond Dickinson (WBD) and London-based BDB Pitmans are in talks over a merger that would create a combined practice with revenue of more than £500m. 

A Womble Bond spokesperson told GLP the two parties were "in early discussions around a potential merger”.

“Both firms regularly review opportunities to advance the best interests of their clients and their respective firms” the spokesperson said, adding that the two firms “are focused on where they see the greatest opportunities for a merged business, including those offered by complementary practice areas and office locations".

A merger would create a transatlantic player with around 1,100 fee earners and total revenue in the region of £528m. But it would not be one of equals, given their disparity in size. 

WBD is by far the larger of the two firms, with 880 lawyers spread across seven offices in the UK and 23 in the US. The firm reported earlier this year that it grew gross revenue by 9.3% in 2021 to $520.5m (£468.6m) against an 11.4% rise in net income to $176.9m (£159.7m). Profit per partner grew by 12.8% to $810,000 (£731.6k). 

BDB Pitmans, by contrast, has around 220 fee earners across four UK offices and in 2021 had revenue of just under £59m, generating profits of £16.6m. 

Neither firm is a stranger to mergers, given their recent histories. WBD was formed in 2017 when national UK outfit Bond Dickinson (itself the result of the 2013 merger of Newcastle-based Dickinson Dees and Bristol's Bond Pearce) joined forces with regional US firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice following a year-long strategic alliance that saw them work increasingly closely together. 

BDB Pitmans was born of a merger between top 100 firm Bircham Dyson Bell and Thames Valley practice Pitmans in 2018; the firm has since also joined up with private wealth practice Portrait Solicitors. It is ranked Tier 1 or 2 by The Legal 500 in a number of areas including for its parliamentary work, commercial litigation, insolvency & restructuring, charities and private client. 

Meantime, WBD has strength across the UK regions in areas including transport, energy & natural resources, chemicals & manufacturing, corporate, retail, real estate, financial institutions, insurance, public sector and private wealth. 

The merger would represent a boost for WBD’s UK business, which according to accounts the firm filed with Companies House saw turnover grow 8.7% to £114.9m in the year to the end of April 2022 but operating profit fall from £31.9m to £29.7m. And for BDB Pitmans it would bring access to more locations in the UK and a previously unavailable network across the US. 

Earlier this week WBD's transatlantic rival, Anglo-Canadian firm Gowling WLG, launched in Leeds after hiring a seven-strong team of its housing development and regeneration specialists. WBD said it remained committed to its ‘ongoing development in Leeds’.

In the US, the firm, whose roots are in North Caroline and Georgia, has been busily expanding its office network. It opened in Huntsville, Alabama, last month, and in San Francisco in July through a tie-up with regional firm Cooper White & Cooper, the same month it opened in Nashvile.

 

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