Almost a quarter of the UK’s top-40 firms may seek to join with a non-solicitors practice in the next two years, according to research.

A poll of leading firms by accountancy and investment management group Smith & Williamson found nine firms are keen on forming an alternative business structure.

So far the ABS option has largely been restricted to smaller existing firms and new entrants to the market.

But the research seems to suggest a number of City and larger firms are also exploring it, with accountants, patent agents and surveyors the most likely choice for future partnerships.

The survey also asked about raising external finance and six firms from the top 40 replied that they may go down this route. Five of these are considering private equity, with one potentially raising over £50m.

Respondent firms appear most likely to use this extra finance to fund the long-term development of the practice, develop further sectors and to fund recruitment of teams and acquisitions.

The survey also enquired about acquisitions of teams. Firstly, looking at the top 40: 10 of the 21 participating firms from this group acquired a team in the last year, with four firms acquiring two or more teams.

Three teams changing hands included over 20 people although the majority being acquired included five individuals or less.