CC in Punders merger vote

Clifford Chance partners will vote this weekend on a surprise merger with Germany's third largest firm Punder Volhard Weber & Axster, The Lawyer can reveal.

Most partners only learnt of the advanced talks from a 200-page document they received last week outlining the proposed merger with US firm Rogers & Wells.

The extraordinary step, which would make Clifford Chance, the world's largest law firm, will send shock waves through City rivals.

Both mergers will be voted on this weekend. The three-way combination of Clifford Chance, Punders and Rogers & Wells would form a 2,600-plus lawyer global giant.

Keith Clark, senior partner at Clifford Chance, will become chairman of the new firm. He remains tight-lipped on the Punders merger.

The document also contains details of a proposed merger with Australian firm Mallesons Stephen Jacques.

It is not certain when that merger will be voted on, but if it goes ahead as well, it would make Clifford Chance a 3,400-lawyer firm, dwarfing Baker & McKenzie, currently the largest firm worldwide with 2,400 lawyers.

Peter Nagele, a partner at Punders, would not confirm the merger but says: “Clifford Chance, Rogers & Wells, Punders are very fine firms. The combination of them is extremely promising.

“I would say that a future combination with us would certainly make sense from a business point of view. We believe that globalisation is inevitable. The age of alliances is over and the one-stop shop concept and one-stop firm concept is the concept of the future.”

It is not clear when Punders will votes on the merger. A source close to Clifford Chance says: “Punders were a bit surprised by the pace of the negotiations. Nothing much was happening until May but then Clifford Chance was really pushing them.”

Clifford Chance was previously talking to Punders' rival, Boesebeck Droste. But The Lawyer understands the UK firm began discussions with Punders in May and that negotiations have proceeded rapidly since then.

Speculation that Clifford Chance was heading for a merger with another German firm, Bruckhaus Westrick Heller Loeber, was ill-founded.

The Lawyer understands the two firms had only cursory discussions before Punders came on the scene.

The end of Clifford Chance's talks with Boesebecks coincided with a change of strategy by Punders.

A source close to the talks says: “At the same time talks broke down with the other firm, Clifford Chance found that Punders were interested in a merger.”

In April, the vast majority of the German firm's partners voted to take the quickest route to becoming a global law firm, through merger.

Punders' Nagele adds: “As for our German competitors, if the merger rumours were true then the situation would be very scary for them.”

Clifford Chance refused to comment.

After the break-up of Punders' European alliance last year it started looking for European merger partners. April's vote for globalisation meant the firm was open to offers from Anglo-Saxon firms and paved the way for talks to begin with Clifford Chance.