The saga of Clifford Chance's on-off affair with leading Australian practice Mallesons Stephen Jaques is underway once more.
Merger talks between the firms are to resume later this year but the practices have yet to name a date.
As revealed in The Lawyer last year, Clifford Chance shelved the merger talks, which would have added presence in Australian and strengthened its Asian branch.
Senior Australian sources claimed at the time that the firms had not been able to agree on the structure of the merged practice (The Lawyer, 26 July 1999).
But a senior source at Mallesons confirms the firms met in December last year and agreed the talks would resume.
Clifford Chance has used the time away from the discussion table to bed down its mergers with Rogers & Wells and Punder Volhard Weber & Axster.
The insider says: “The talks were put on the back-burner to give Clifford Chance a chance to deal with the other two mergers. But they are set to resume later on this year.”
The source concedes there is no guarantee that a deal will be brokered this time. He says: “Clifford Chance is clearly going to be one of the main firms globally. But whether we will be able to cut the deal this time I do not know.”
But he says that merger is integral to the Australian firm's long-term strategy.
“What we are looking at is a battle to create the world's largest firm and that means being number one in the UK and in Europe.
“And in terms of quality, that also means number one in Asia, and most importantly, number one in the US. That is what the game is about. The building blocks are about putting all that together,” he says.
Mallesons is one of Australia's leading banking firms with 188 partners. It has offices across Australia as well as an operation in London.
One senior Australian lawyer believes the onus will be on Mallesons: “They are going to have to do it this time otherwise they are going to look like complete fools,” he says.
Clifford Chance was unavailable for comment.