The Firms

January 20, 2012 3:39 PM

Law Firm Mergers Abound Overseas

Posted by Brian Baxter

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday on a subject that isn't exactly news in these parts: that several factors—a decline in work, clients demanding discounts, and a volatile lateral market in which rivals poach top partners—are forcing law firms in the United States to, essentially, merge or die.

The Am Law Daily has certainly spent its share of time documenting the merger phenomenon. On Tuesday, for instance, McKenna Long & Aldridge and Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps officially confirmed that they will combine on March 1 in the latest consolidation of Am Law 200 shops. The week also brought word that leading labor and employment firms Jackson Lewis and Littler Mendelson are growing by absorbing smaller firms in Milwaukee and Memphis, respectively.

And it's not just regional firms in this country that are joining forces. Major recent tie-ups beyond U.S. borders include last year's union between British firms Clyde & Co and Barlow Lyde & Gilbert—the largest firm merger ever in the United Kingdom and the subject of a feature story in The American Lawyer's October 2011 issue.

In another potential international combination covered by The Am Law Daily earlier this week, British firm Herbert Smith is in talks with leading Australian firm Freehills to create what would be the latest in a series of combinations between Aussie firms and their British counterparts.

While other firms in Australia, Italy, and South Africa are also inking their own tie-ups, the U.K. was a particular hotspot for midtier firm mergers this week. 

Cobbetts, a Manchester-based firm with offices in Birmingham, Leeds, and London, confirmed that it is in merger talks with Liverpool-based regional rival DWF, according to U.K. publication Legal Week. The talks come on the heels of DWF completing a merger with Newcastle-based boutique Crutes earlier this month. (Click here for a list of the top 50 firms in the U.K., courtesy of Legal Week.)

Also eyeing a potential tie-up: top 20 British firm Pinsent Masons—which has offices throughout the U.K., as well as in Dubai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Singapore—and leading Scottish firm McGrigors, according to Legal Week. (McGrigors is the only firm The Am Law Daily has ever seen with a satellite office in the Falklands, which is home to five species of penguin, all of whom presumably need legal representation.)

Public disclosure of Pinsent's talks with McGrigors comes a week after PricewaterhouseCoopers released a report pointing to the likelihood of future firm mergers in Scotland due to the dearth of legal work for large firms operating in the country. (The Scottish legal market got a jolt back in 2008 when Edinburgh-based Dickson Minto struck a strategic trans-Atlantic alliance with Willkie Farr & Gallagher.)

McGrigors's Scottish rivals have been busy bolstering their own operations of late. Edinburgh-based Dundas & Wilson, which ended merger talks last year with London-based Bircham Dyson Bell, recently picked up a five-lawyer banking team from London-based Stephenson Harwood. Legal Week reports that real estate partner and former Stephenson Harwood CEO John Pike is among the new Dundas hires.

And Birmingham-based Gateley added to its already robust Scottish practice this week by hiring two new partners: real estate specialist Caroline James from Tods Murray in Glasgow and restructuring pro Tim Cooper from Squire Sanders in Manchester, according to Legal Week. Cooper will now work out of Edinburgh. (Update: On Monday, Tods Murray absorbed Fyfe Ireland, a two-partner private client boutique, according to the BBC.)

Beyond the spate of potential mergers, the U.K.'s legal landscape could also be reshaped by the advent of new alternative business structure rules under the country's Legal Services Act that let nonlawyers own stakes in firms alongside attorneys. Some top British firms, including Sheffield-based Irwin Mitchell, are already moving ahead with plans to seek external investment. Legal Week reports that Irwin Mitchell hired Glyn Barker, a former executive at PwC, as its new chairman this week.

In other international law firm merger news . . .

Middletons, one of the largest firms in Australia, has announced plans to enter the Brisbane legal market on March 1 by merging with local firm Flower and Hartaccording to the Queensland Business Review.

Legal Week reports that London-based Nabarro has expanded its network of European alliances by adding on Roca Junyent, Spain's fifth-largest independent firm. Other members of the network include French firm August & Debouzy, German firm GSK Stockmann + Kollegen, and Italian shop Nunziante Magrone.

Bowman Gilfillan, one of South Africa's Big Five firms, will merge its IP practice on March 1 with local IP firm Adams & Adams, according to Business Live. The two firms will create Africa's largest IP practice by merging, with offices throughout South Africa, as well as outposts in Angola, Mozambique, and Nigeria.

The Lawyer reports that Italian employment boutique the Employment Law Plant will double in size when it completes its merger with Rome-based labor firm Studio Legale Persiani. The combined firm, whose chair, Aldo Calza, is a former DLA Piper partner, will have eight partners and four associates.


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Only Bowman Gilfillan's Intellectual Property Department is merging with Adams and Adams, not the whole firm.

In short order, these newly merged offshore firms will be landing on United States soil, acquiring US firms or creating branches here:

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