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British Airways' has dropped Linklaters in favour of magic circle rival Slaughter and May for its planned merger with KLM Royal Dutch Airline.
The airline giant usually turns to Linklaters for corporate advice. But recently, BA has increasingly sent its corporate and competition work to Slaughters, which previously undertook mainly leasing work for BA, headed by finance partner Tom Kinnersley.
BA's appointment of Slaughters has revived the intense competition between the two firms.
In May, Slaughters defended Blue Circle against a £3.4bn hostile takeover bid by its shareholder Lafarge, which was advised by Linklaters (The Lawyer, 7 February). And this month, Linklaters was counsel to DIY retailer Wickes in warding off a £327m offer from Focus Do-It-All, which was backed by Duke Street Capital and advised by Slaughters.
But the KLM deal is the first time Slaughters has displaced its rival for BA's affections.
Linklaters' Dutch alliance partner De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek is acting for KLM, suggesting Linklaters may have been conflicted out of the deal. However, one source says: "They haven't merged, they still subscribe to the Law Society rule about shared information. I would be surprised if there were conflict problems."
It is understood that Linklaters was not asked to tender for the work, and was disappointed about not advising on the deal.
Sources say that since BA's legal director Stephen Walsh has taken over responsibility for deciding which firms it uses, the relationships with its firms have changed.
Linklaters litigation partner Peter Cornell says: "I know at some point we were doing a huge amount of work for BA. But in terms of what we are doing at the moment I just don't know."
It is not the first time BA has turned to another firm for legal advice on a large deal.
Last year, Wragge & Co won work for the airline giant against four City firms, including Linklaters and Slaughters, to advise it on a major outsourcing contract (The Lawyer, 29 November).
Pierre Nijnen, a partner at the London office of De Brauw, confirms that De Brauw is acting for KLM.