At the end of last week an excellent new rumour hit town: that Eversheds and CMS Cameron McKenna were in merger talks to create a £580m firm.
Given the rate of consolidation in the legal market, the idea seemed eerily plausible, particularly after the Clyde & Co-Barlow Lyde & Gilbert and Beachcroft-Davies Arnold Cooper announcements last month.
I am duty-bound to say that the story is better described as a dollop of projection with a sprinkling of wish fulfilment on top. For there are sort-of denials from both firms. As in: No, we’re not in proper merger talks, but in this crazy world who knows what might happen? One source describes the encounter as “a bit of a showing of ankles”. Despite another managing partner unkindly calling it “two drunks propping each other up at the bar”, CMSEversheds is an arresting idea. The kneejerk derision that they attract from certain sections of the legal market is often unfair. It doesn’t help that both firms’ reputations as nice places to work have been damaged - in Eversheds’ case, over its handling of redundancies, and in Camerons’ case, over the deal with back-office outsourcer Integreon; much as Allen & Overy’s was when it announced it was moving functions to Belfast. (Memo to managing partners: legal folk memory lasts longer than you think.)
It’s easy for certain City types to jeer at the firms, but both have shown more strategic imagination than, say, Travers Smith or Macfarlanes.
Now that Eversheds has integrated its volume business into the firm and undergone a painful recovery period, it is considering US and City mergers. It has always wanted a City merger, so nothing new there; but with PEP at £555,000 and a client satisfaction rate that ought to be the envy of its rivals, it has never been so well-placed.
Camerons is more focused on international expansion, but it’s well-known that its German colleagues are agitating for more heft in London. However, it’s not just Camerons that Eversheds would have to woo, but the entire CMS network, which makes the proposition infinitely trickier.
So, Camerons and Eversheds: not quite dating, but definitely up for a dance. Time to dim the lights.