Regional law firm Ashton KCJ is gearing up for a change at the top after announcing that corporate solicitor Edward O’Rourke is to take over as its new chief executive next month .

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He succeeds Simon Smith who will leave after a decade during which, first as managing partner and then as CEO, he brought the firm through two mergers to the strong regional player it is today.

Mr O’Rourke was elected to the role by the firm’s partners who, at the same time, elected Mark Merriam as chair of the partnership board and agreed upon a new internal management structure.

Both the CEO and chair appointments are for a minimum term of three years.

The firm said that Mr O’Rourke, 44, who lives in Norwich, was the “ideal candidate” to maintain and develop the progressive agenda started by Mr Smith. He came into the law having previously run service sector businesses and currently heads Ashton KCJ’s corporate and commercial team, a role which will be taken on by Geoff Hazlewood.

Mr Smith said: “We have had a very positive first year since our merger in October 2011, including recruiting excellent new legal talent, retaining this year’s home-grown trainees when they qualified, gaining accolades from Legal 500 and Chambers that I had envisaged taking until at least next year to obtain, and recently winning a national award for our new website.

“Ed has all the hallmarks of an excellent CEO and I’m supremely confident in his ability to steer Ashton KCJ successfully through the next phase of its development. From a personal perspective, I’m delighted to be handing the mantle on to a very capable younger man and moving on to some other professional and personal challenges – at 57 I need to start them now while I am still young enough to give of my best.”

Mr O’Rourke said: “The legal profession is facing exciting but challenging times. Simon has brought Ashton KCJ to a point where we are ideally poised to capitalise on the opportunities available.

“My job is to ensure that we continue to develop the services, and the means of delivering them, which our clients require, and consistently attract top legal and managerial talent to make this happen. I’m lucky to be stepping into the CEO role supported by an excellent team and I’m hugely looking forward to the opportunities ahead”.

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