National firm Cartwright King claims it will become one of the largest criminal defence firms in the country after announcing a merger with southern England firm The First Law Partnership in order to bid for new-style legal aid contracts. 

The deal, which takes effect from 5 January 2015, will increase the firm’s number of offices to 14, with 230 staff and a £13m turnover.

The new firm intends to bid for criminal legal aid work under the Ministry of Justice’s new two-tier model.

Cartwright King managing director Rupert Hawke (pictured) said: ‘The impact of the new tendering model provides a challenging market condition, but one that we are rising to. 

‘The decision to merge provides us with better economies of scale and the ability to continue to provide quality legal advice and access to justice, while keeping us competitive in the marketplace.’

The deal follows Cartwright King’s recent absorption of the Bastian Lloyd Morris (BLM) criminal defence team in Milton Keynes. It will now have offices in Reading, Luton, Bedford, Wellingborough and Northampton, as well as London, Birmingham, Newcastle, Gateshead, Leeds, Sheffield, Nottingham, Derby and Leicester.

‘This is part of our continued expansion plans, around which we welcome enquiries from firms across the UK,’ Hawke said.

In October, the firm established what it claimed to be the first ‘in-house’ barristers' chambers. More barristers and higher court advocates will join the firm's crown court practice following the latest deal.