Birmingham-based law firm HBJ Gateley Wareing has expanded its London operation with a niche merger.

The firm established a presence in the capital last year through its link-up with shipping firm Shaw and Croft. Now it has agreed a deal with maritime and commercial law firm Holmes Hardingham to create "a substantial specialist shipping and multi-modal transport practice".

Gateley said the move would help service its "rapidly expanding national and international client base".

The firms have signed a memorandum of understanding expected to lead to a merger of the shipping and transport teams early in June.

The enlarged unit will comprise 26 lawyers operating out of London, Edinburgh and Dubai, including six current Holmes Hardingham partners and five other fee earners who will continue to operate under the name Holmes Hardingham as a division of HBJ Gateley Wareing.

Gateley's London office has doubled in size in the last 12 months and will now comprise 28 fee earners.

Holmes Hardingham clients include ship and yacht owners, charterers, hull and cargo underwriters, general commercial insurers, goods in transit insurers, recovery agents, transport companies and intermediaries, commodity traders, brokers, dredging contractors, oil companies, trade associations and inspection organisations.

The firm is highly regarded in the shipping and road transport fields. The Chambers guide to the UK legal profession ranks the firm as pre-eminent in UK road transport acting mainly for national and international underwriters and carriers.

In addition, the firm has a leading reputation in yacht and pleasure craft insurance work and a "well established shipping and trading practice, focusing on resolving disputes".

Commenting on the merger, Holmes Hardingham chairman Adrian Hard-ingham, said: "We are delighted to join HBJ Gateley Wareing to create a top tier international shipping, maritime and multi-modal transport practice.

"The firm's national and international capabilities will significantly increase our ability to service shipping, transport and finance clients anywhere in the world as well as allowing us to offer clients a full corporate advisory service."

HBJ Gateley Wareing chairman Bijan Sedghi, who is now based in the London office, added: "We continue to play to our strengths investing in the best lawyers in the transport sector.

"Our shipping and transport capability will be enhanced both in London and internationally by the Holmes Hard-ingham team who have a first-class international reputation in the market. This provides a significant opportunity to offer an integrated, high quality legal service in shipping, aviation, road transport and logistics to meet the demands of our growing client base."

HBJ Gateley Wareing is a top-70 UK law firm with 81 partners and more than 280 fee earners. The firm has offices in Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leicester, London, Nottingham and Dubai.