Two of London’s boutique family law firms have merged in a ‘highly unusual’ move that brings together some of the sector’s biggest personalities.
Zoë Bloom, a highly energetic lawyer who has been described as a ‘powerhouse’ by peers and is known for her complex litigation work for UHNW clients, has announced she has entered into business with Alexiou Fisher Philipps (AFP) to create family law super-boutique AFP Bloom.
Bloom and AFP partners Tom Amlot and William Healing will lead a 20-strong team of lawyers, including eight partners, at the new practice, which will be based at AFP’s existing offices on Wigmore Street, in Marylebone.
Speaking to Spear’s, Bloom concedes it is ‘pretty rare’ for two boutique firms to come together. ‘It’s tied to the fact that we’re all a bit mad. Founders like to do things their own way,’ she says. ‘So they kind of break away to do it themselves. And so merging two firms from that background is quite unusual.’
So why, then, are the two outfits coming together? Firstly, it helps the firms stand out in a crowded market.
AFP Bloom and the atomisation of family law firms
Since the mid-2000s, the family law industry has increasingly splintered into a series of smaller firms – with prominent personalities launching their own legal practices, allowing them to determine their own organisational cultures and work with clients as they see fit.
Camilla Baldwin began her eponymous firm after time spent at Withers in 2005 – the same year Vardags opened shop. In 2017, Catherine Bedford moved her entire team from Lee & Thompson to Harbottle – building its family law service line from scratch.
‘If you look at the trajectory of the last five or six years, it’s more and more small firms breaking away and forming these little boutiques,’ Bloom explains. ‘I think that is a reflection of the American market.’
The two firms also have ‘the same ethos’ and, crucially, are already servicing the same calibre of client. ‘It’s very natural for us to merge and be together because we’re already operating in the same circle, the same sphere. It’s all UHNW stuff,’ Bloom continues.
From AFP’s perspective, the move presents an opportunity for the family law firm to ‘rejuvenate and refresh’. ‘Their founding partners – Alexiou, Fisher and Philipps – have all retired now,’ Bloom says. ‘And we are quite new and pretty energetic. So it sort of works.’
After the news was announced, Amlot wrote on LinkedIn: ‘One of the original boutiques, founded by Douglas [Alexiou], Jeremy [Fisher] and Sue [Philipps] in 2001… we have now grown into a super boutique by joining up with Zoe Bloom and her incredible team. Congratulations to Lucy Brown and Nicole Derham who become partners today. Onwards and upwards!’
The merger came about following a phone call from Amlot while driving to Latitude Festival, in Suffolk. Bloom has known both Amlot and founding AFP partner Douglas Alexiou for ‘a long time’. Alexiou in particular had been ‘really instrumental’ in nurturing Bloom’s talent in the early days of her career.
‘He was amazing to me. He took me under his wing, he really taught me stuff. So I knew the firm and I liked them,’ she continues. The fateful call from Amlot set the ball rolling. ‘We thought this would be something that we could pursue and look at… And it seemed like really, truly a perfect meeting and a perfect matching.’
‘The decision to merge was scary but instinctive’
The enlarged boutique offering, which will continue with both BloomBudd and AFP’s structure of no targets around billable hours, will bring together Bloom’s focus on ‘complex litigation’ with Healing’s strength with Anglo-French clients. Amlot, meanwhile, is known for his international work.
Partner Victoria Toy, who joins from BloomBudd, will head up a new ‘complex children practice’, explains Bloom. ‘She has a background in dealing with really nasty, difficult, intractable children disputes. We think that’s something that is missing from the market.’ Two senior associates are being promoted to partner level: Nicole Derham from Bloom Budd, and Lucy Brown from AFP. Junior colleagues, she says, will benefit from exposure to the inner-workings of top-level family law cases involving the High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court.
Bloom is diplomatic about the fate of her former founding partner, saying Budd has chosen to explore other opportunities with consultancy work. AFP’s Kate Longmate and Emma Harte will also depart the firm following the merger. All three decided to pursue other options rather than join ‘something a bit bigger’, according to Bloom.
Despite the Herculean task building up to the launch on 1 February, Bloom’s excitement is palpable as she looks to the future. ‘The legal profession prizes stability and consistency so the decision to merge was quite scary but instinctive,’ she says. ‘Opportunities only come around every so often so this was something that could not be missed.’