Scottish legal firm Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie (WJM), whose roots date back more than 150 years in Glasgow, has joined forces with larger English counterpart Irwin Mitchell via what has been described as a "strategic investment".

The deal is effectively an acquisition and follows hot on the heels of news earlier this week that two of Scotland's oldest law firms, Morton Fraser and MacRoberts, are merging to create a new independent “top tier” player. Fraser Gillies, managing partner at WJM, described the link-up with Sheffield's Irwin Mitchell as a "landmark moment" for his firm.

Mr Gillies will continue to head up operations in Scotland, where WJM employs 150 people including 33 partners across offices in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Inverness, Dunblane and Dunfermline. Upon completion of the deal, which is subject to regulatory approval, Irwin Mitchell partners Bruce Macmillan, Craig Marshall and Mark Higgins will join WJM’s new management board.

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The merger will expand Irwin Mitchell’s presence in Scotland beyond its office in Glasgow, where 35 members of staff focus primarily on banking, finance and personal injury work. In return, Irwin Mitchell will open its legal and financial services to WJM’s clients.

Founded in Sheffield in 1912, Irwin Mitchell has approximately 3,000 colleagues including 243 partners across 18 offices, 17 of which are located in England and Wales. Revenues for the year to the end of April came in at £276.4 million, versus WJM's latest published figure of £11.7m.

Both firms have actively pursued mergers and acquisitions during the past decade. In the past 12 months Irwin Mitchell has agreed deals to acquire asset management firms TWP Wealth and Andrews Gwynne, while also opening new offices in Cardiff and Liverpool.

WJM was established in Glasgow in 1854 by Thomas Grieve Wright and George Smith. Alexander Johnston joined the practice in 1866, followed Dr James Mackenzie in 1869. Since then the firm has been known as Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie.

The practice expanded into Edinburgh, Dunfermline, Inverness and Dunblane via a series of four mergers between 2016 and 2018. In 2019 it acquired the practice of Calum I Duncan Corporate Lawyers in Inverness, followed by J Gibson Associates of Edinburgh in 2020.

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Craig Marshall, chief operating officer at Irwin Mitchell, said the two firms have complementary services with little overlap. Having collaborated during the past decade while working as part of the same international networks, it was felt that both would benefit from the creation of a direct relationship.

“The two firms are a great cultural fit and share a similar purpose, values, and future vision," Mr Marshall said. "We have ambitious plans for growth, and we are both focused on building on our client-centric approach, an excellent colleague experience and an ambition to become leading responsible businesses."

He added: “This strategic investment significantly expands our access to Scotland and Irwin Mitchell and Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie believe it will fundamentally enhance the service for current and future clients across the whole of the UK and internationally.”

Mr Gillies said: “This is a landmark moment for our firm. We have expanded considerably over the past decade and this investment will supercharge our growth efforts and provide a clear route into England and Wales, while broadening the services we can offer our clients.

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“We share a similar approach, putting our clients and people at the heart of everything we do. We also share similar ambitions for the future, so we are proud to make history together and begin this exciting new chapter.”

News emerged on Tuesday of the merger between Morton Fraser, which has been providing legal advice since 1614, and 150-year-old MacRoberts. The combined operation, Morton Fraser MacRoberts, will have a team of 250 solicitors and revenue of £46m.

The firm will be led by Chris Harte, currently chief executive of Morton Fraser, with MacRoberts managing partner Neil Kennedy becoming chief operating officer. The merger is projected to go live on November 1, subject to regulatory and other approvals.