Ashurst partners vote for £550m financial integration with Ashurst Australia

Ashurst partners have voted “overwhelmingly” in favour of full financial integration with legacy Blake Dawson, now known as Ashurst Australia.

The merger transforms Ashurst from a £323m to a £550m turnover firm.

It is understood that Ashurst equity partners began casting their electronic ballots after a partner conference on 10 September, with voting closing at 5am this morning (26 September). According to Ashurst policy, non-equity partners were also able to anonymously ‘express a view’ although this had no impact on the final result.

In Australia, partners met in person in Sydney this afternoon, concluding their votes by 2pm EST (5am GMT). Both equity and salary partners had a mandate to vote, and those who couldn’t attend in person were able to have their say via proxy.

It is understood that Ashurst needed to secure a 75 per cent majority from both firms for the motion to be successful.

A subsequent vote on the firm’s newly-established chairman role is expected to follow, beginning tomorrow (27 September) and continuing for about two weeks.

Ashurst senior partner Charlie Geffen said of the tie-up: “To bring two different partnerships together requires a lot of time and involves a lot of getting-to-know-you initiatives.”

He continued: “The past two years have been really important in terms of building relationships under one brand and this is the final step of creating a single governance system, a single profit pool and one partnership.”

Geffen said that the number of partners voting in favour of the financial merger was even greater than the initial tie-up vote on 26 September 2011 – exactly two years ago today (26 September 2011). At that time, a vote on financial integration was scheduled for 2014, but the timeline was escalated to October 2013, before being once again fast-tracked to September (28 June 2013).

“We wanted to vote earlier as we realised the process had been going better than expected,” Geffen said.

The full merger will see all partners at both firms on a single managed lockstep system, with a single global profit pool. In essence, the merged firm will adopt the system of Ashurst, with Ashurst Australia partners migrating onto its existing lockstep. There will be a global board to oversee partner appraisals and allocate equity points.

In recent years, the firms have been busy taking steps to align their capital structures. Legacy Blake Dawson moved away from an all-equity partnership, leading to a decline in its number of equity partners and an increase in the number of fixed-income partners. Ashurst, on the other hand, revamped its capital structure by asking partners to put capital into the firm upfront for the first time (28 June 2013).

The merged firm will have a new 14-member global board, consisting of an elected chairman and vice chairman who will come from different legacy firms, managing partner James Collis, four elected legacy Ashurst partners, an elected Asia partner, three elected legacy Ashurst Australia partners, two independent members, and a non-voting chief financial officer (11 July 2013).

Ashurst’s senior partner role, held by corporate partner Charlie Geffen since 2008, is to be scrapped and replaced with a new chairman mantle. Litigator Ben Tidswell and Sydney-based competition and consumer protection partner Peter Armitage are also in the running for the post (24 September 2013).

It is understood that the partner vote on the chairman position will begin on Friday (27 September), with the winner being announced on 16 October. The vice-chair and board votes will take place shortly after.

Other management roles will remain broadly in line with the current set up, with current managing partner James Collis taking the global managing partner role and Ashurst Australia’s standing managing partner John Carrington maintaining his position at the head of the firm’s Australian practice. Singapore-based Matthew Bubb will continue in his role as Asia managing partner.

The firm has also introduced a new global divisional structure based along four business lines: corporate, commercial and competition; disputes, intellectual property and employment; energy, transport and infrastructure, and finance. Each will be co-led by one Ashurst and one Ashurst Australia partner.