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The 13-partner City practice Hobson Audley Hopkins & Wood is this week finalising negotiations to join 150-partner mid-western US firm Feagre & Benson to form the country's second major UK/US multinational partnership.
In an arrangement similar to that created three years ago when City firm Titmuss Sainer & Webb allied with US firm Dechert Price & Rhoades, the two practices will keep their management structures intact, but Hobson Audley Hopkins & Wood will become Feagre Benson Hobson Audley in London in a joint venture multinational partnership (MNP).
Feagres' existing London-based US partner Scott James will move into Hobson's offices off Ludgate Hill and key partners from Feagres' US offices will be registered with the Law Society as foreign lawyers in the UK and become part of the MNP.
Hobsons' managing partner Gerald Hobson said the firms would simply share referral fees rather than having a one-pot profit share. He said the idea was to present a united front for marketing purposes.
"These are difficult times and it's good to have a big brother," said Hobson. "Gaining instructions these days is a matter of making contacts. This arrangement will get us into beauty parades that we would not have been in before."
He revealed that his firm had already gained 10 instructions from the US practice since the two were introduced by a headhunter in October.
Feagres, a Minneapolis-based medium-sized general practice with, like Hobsons, an emphasis on litigation and corporate commercial work, has offices in two other mid-West towns - Denver and Des Moines - as well as branches in Frankfurt and Almaty, Kazakstan.
An earlier arrangement Feagres had with two UK partners who used its London office came to an end after they were arrested over alleged money laundering in May 1995. The two were later exonerated and charges were never brought.
The latest move ends a two-year search by Hobsons for a US partner. Hobson, who led negotiations with senior partner Max Audley, said he had used headhunters to approach firms first in New York and later in Chicago. But he said that these wanted leading UK lawyers in key areas rather than acquiring a general practice.
Tom Morgan, a Minneapolis partner involved in the negotiations, said Feagres too had been searching for an English partner with the desire to increase "the English legal services available to our clients". He added that the MNP "is not a prelude to a full merger".