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SJ Berwin's drawn out merger discussions took another twist this week, as it emerged that its head of Real Estate has resigned to go to Irwin Mitchell, taking three of his partners with him.

John Vivian, Jo Footitt, Lewis Myers and Rob Thompson are all jumping ship, leaving SJB with a sizeable hole in the department. Although given that real estate doesn't seem to be making anyone much money at the moment the firm's bovvered bag is presumably rather empty. Still any departure of this size is pretty embarrassing - and in the run up to a possible merger, raises significant questions.

Vivian confirmed to Legal Week all the things that one would expect - "very exciting opportunity... something which is different... first-class team... blah blah". However, he made no mention of what is widely rumoured to be the main reason for his departure - the unhappiness amongst many SJB partners that the firm is still buggering about in merger talks with US firm Proskauer Rose after all almost five months.


SJB previously failed to pull off a merger with Orrick - which announced this week, after courting firms on both sides of the Atlantic, that the latest object of its affection was Akin Gump.

The development underlines the dangers of firms getting bogged down in interminable merger discussions. A spokesman for SJB said that "we are disappointed that Jon, Jo, Rob and Lewis decided to leave us, but we remain fully committed to real estate and will continue to serve the sector with a very strong team, led by Bryan Pickup and Simon Ricketts, with 13 London partners, and a widening international network". He added that the "merger talks are continuing" to a chorus of yawns in the background.
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