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Ince & Co will take over the French offices of rival niche shipping firm Constant & Constant at the beginning of next year.
The takeover comes after two years of disputes between Constants' Paris and Le Havre offices and its London base over funds for development. The Paris and Le Havre offices are promoted as having a wide range of work, including general commercial litigation and banking, although it is better known as a niche shipping practice. Constants Paris partner Gilles Gautier is a shipping expert and Ferdinand Vroom has a non-contentious shipping-related practice, which embraces ship financing, joint ventures and cruiseline work. Andrew Charlier, the third Paris partner, handles the commercial work. The partner based in Le Havre is Jerome de Sentenac. Peter Rogan, Ince & Co senior partner, said that clients of the offices are compatible with those of his firm. He intends to maintain the current number of partners in Le Havre and Paris, which totals four. He expects there to be a further six fee-earners and about seven support staff. Both Constants and the departing teams say that the differences over funding are not behind the split. However, Constants managing partner Jonathan Ecclestone said: "I'd spoken to them on several occasions about their requests for strategic development. We were reluctant to do so because we don't have a strategic market in Paris that we could develop for our advantage, and the return from Paris to London didn't justify further investment." However, Charlier disagreed with Ecclestone's analysis. "I consider the merger with Ince to be a great opportunity and expect it to help build our France practice further and enhance our service to our French clients," he commented. "The opportunity is also in terms of the international network that Ince is able to offer its clients, and that it has a worldwide practice." In February, Ecclestone was approached by the French partners, who stated that they wanted an association with a larger firm. Five months on they found Ince & Co, which they hoped would sponsor the firm which they themselves intended to launch. Rogan expects to recruit people who are dual-qualified in French and English law. Currently, the lawyers in Paris and Le Havre practise only local law. Ince & Co has not yet had to face the difficulties of integrating another firm's offices into its structure. It opened an office in Piraeus in 1993 and took on German fee-earners for its Hamburg office, which opened in October. As France has not yet ratified the European Commission on the freedom of access for lawyers, for the time being the offices will work as a separate partnership, titled Gautier Vroom & Associés; it will enter a transnational grouping, which has an associated arrangement with Ince & Co.