Merger announcement: Wheels in motion for the next big firm?

by Sophie Schroder10 Oct 2014
Hamilton’s largest law firm, Tompkins Wake, has just announced it will merge with Rotorua’s oldest established firm, Davys Burton, on November 1.
The move is part of a strategic plan to grow and nationalise, and the firm will be tapping into key regions outside of big city centres.
The looming merge will bring the firm’s new staff total to 18 partners and 81 people, says Tompkins Wake CEO Richard Rowley, and the law firm will trade under the name “Tompkins Wake (incorporating Davys Burton)” in Rotorua.
Rowley has made headlines before: He and the Tompkins Wake were behind a tongue-in-cheek advertising campaign six years ago that threatened to sue the entire nation for the “misleading portrayal” that in order to enjoy a successful legal career, lawyers must reside in a main city.
The campaign blamed New Zealand for making it difficult to recruit good lawyers into Hamilton.
It included "expert witness" written statements from Rowley and several partners at the firm, advocating Hamilton's cause.
But giggles aside, Rowley, a former executive director at Phillips Fox, told NZ Lawyer that he sees huge value in recruiting good professional people to regions outside of the big cities.
“Not just lawyers but across the range of university graduates, attracting them into provincial businesses is difficult,” he says.
“Building a stronger bench of professional families in our hinterland towns and cities will have positive impacts on recruitment, on schools and other service providers and on the current view that working in one of the three major cities is always better.”
It’s one of the reasons he started planning the merger with Davys Burton six or seven months ago.
For the Rotorua firm the move enables a succession plan and injects skills and experience into that market that will offer improved services to clients in the district, Rowley says.
“For our firm in both Auckland and Hamilton it increases the catchment area for client work to support our specialist lawyers.  It provides career surety for our lawyers and at the same time allows us to create efficiencies in the provision of services across our whole client group. Inevitably it improves our competitive position in our markets.”
But that’s not all: Tompkins Wake is now in talks with a couple more firms, one in the Bay of Plenty and one in New Plymouth, about another potential merge.
Rowley sees huge value in large law firms operating in key regional areas. He says Taranaki, Auckland, the Waikato and the Bay of Plenty are home to some of the most productive people and businesses in New Zealand.
“Seeking the services we supply but not having to fight the motorway traffic and pay the high cost of those city-bound services makes us attractive. 
“Providing a high level of expertise and experience that looks after these businesses and the people in the regions has real value… combined with the reduced cost of high quality housing and schooling, [it] makes a lot of sense to many people once they understand it.”
Besides, home is where you make opportunities work for you, in Rowley’s opinion.
He can’t understand people who decry Auckland any more than those who are horrible about Hamilton.
What the CEO loves the most about New Zealand is that whether he is living in Timaru, Oamaru, Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington, Auckland or Hamilton (all from his personal experience); he has been fulfilled professionally and has been happy as a person.
“People who criticise whole towns or cities are really telling us how they have failed to appreciate the opportunities that exist,” he says.


  • by Ashley Balls 10/10/2014 12:42:14 p.m.

    This is good news and is a clear indication of the way of the future. NZ has too many small firms who are unable to offer economies of scale that can only come from leaner and larger entities. Aggregation of practices is inevitable and when properly handled will lead to more efficient delivery of services. That said, there is almost no point in merging if nothing changes and it is only two firms coming together to form a third. The way some lawyers work in treating all work as if it requires a bespoke solution makes no sense. We have to find greater productivity and that will require investment in IT and a commitment to finding new ways of working. If luminaries like Professor Richard Susskind are right (and he hasn't been wrong yet) the need for lawyers will decline and new legal careers will emerge. Some will be filled by non-lawyers. Interesting times. It is to be hoped that timidity and a rejection of change doesn't get in the way of fulfilling client need.

  • by Ron Pol 10/10/2014 2:28:04 p.m.

    Great to see. There are tremendous opportunities, with great clients, in several parts of the country outside the biggest centres. Not always served well, by local firms less aware of evolving needs of sophisticated, nor by AKL/WLG firms not always understanding the regional pressures.

    Done well, this also offers better opportunities for lawyers to be attracted to these areas, and for clients to stay local as they grow, and less to feel the need to move work to a big city firm; and at a certain level, both can feed into each other in a virtuous circle.

    Time will tell, not least because as it gets to the scale it needs is also when it hits the competitive firestorm, but this is a positive move, all credit for boldly stepping up.

  • by Myla Ruttan 15/10/2014 8:54:41 a.m.

    Incorporating big firm names via merge with small rural firms creates positive solution to offer better customer service to clients. It also attracts new lawyers/grads to move out of the big city and provides opportunity to build clientele in rural areas. It's a win-win situation. Indeed, "home is where you make opportunities work for you".