Clifford Chance pulls plug on Mallesons merger talks

Revealed: credit crunch blamed as magic circle firm spurns chance to double Asia offering.

<a class=Clifford Chance pulls plug on Mallesons merger talks” class=”inline_image inline_image_left” src=”/pictures/web/images/15271_P1_australia.jpg” />Clifford Chance has broken off six months of merger talks with Australia’s largest firm Mallesons Stephen Jaques due to economic conditions.

The tie-up would have made Clifford Chance the largest law firm in Australasia, with more than a thousand lawyers in the region – but the current unpredictability of the global economy has scuppered the plans.

Mallesons chief executive partner Robert Milliner declined to comment directly on the talks, but told The Lawyer: “How and when we move on opportunities will obviously depend on when we think all the relevant planets are aligned.”

The talks revived a deal that was first mooted in 1999, but which broke down in 2000 because Clifford Chance would not accept the entire Mallesons partnership.

This time round it is understood that Mallesons was more amenable to the UK firm’s demands that a third of its Australian partnership be trimmed.

“Clearly we need to understand what long-term changes may result from a resetting of the global market,” added Milliner.

There is broad consensus that the Australian legal market has too many lawyers chasing too few deals, and Milliner, along with others, has said that the firm’s only growth prospects lie in Asia.

Mallesons has around 130 lawyers in its three Asia offices and 1,000 in its home market. Last year the firm brought in a revenue of A$545m (£238.83m).

Around a tenth of that sum was directly attributed to the firm’s Asia operations.

Clifford Chance has around 300 lawyers in the region. The firm recently transferred former UK managing partner Peter Charlton to Asia with a brief to double the firm’s size in the region.

Management at Clifford Chance saw the Mallesons deal as a quick way to do that and an opportunity to differentiate itself from the rest of the magic circle by becoming the law firm of choice in Asia.

Clifford Chance declined to comment.

Read this week’s leader on the Clifford Chance-Mallesons talks here.

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