Leading continental firm Stibbe Simont Monahan Duhot is to merge with 140-lawyer German practice Gleiss Lutz Hootz Hirsch to form what it claims is the first "truly European firm".
However, the merged firm will still have no UK law capacity and it said a tie-up with an Anglo-Saxon firm will be the next priority.
The new firm, to be called Stibbe Gleiss Simont Duhot, will have about 600 lawyers by the time it merges on 1 January 1999. It brings together Stibbes' main Amsterdam, Brussels and Paris offices with Gleiss's offices in Stuttgart, Berlin and Frankfurt.
Gleiss also has offices in Brussels and Shanghai, while Stibbes has offices in London, New York, Prague and Warsaw.
Stibbes strengthened its Paris presence last year by a merger with nine-partner French practice Giroux Buhagiar & Associes.
Bodo Riegger, Gleiss senior partner, said the merger was driven by the success of the corporate work the two firms had already done together and the anticipated increase in cross-border work with the introduction of the European single currency.
Partners will vote on the final merger plan in early October to confirm 1 January 1999 as the date of the full merger, although Stibbes managing partner Frans Corpeleijn said: "As far as I'm concerned the deal is done."
The Lawyer understands that Stibbes is in preliminary merger discussions with several English firms that have approached it. But Corpeleijn denied Belgian newspaper reports that a merger with a UK firm would happen before the end of the year.
Insiders say the firm has been practically besieged by City law firms seeking mergers. Corpeleijn was at pains to emphasise that the firm would concentrate on consolidating its German merger over the next year, but he agreed that a UK or US tie-up would be the next priority.
Corpeleijn said he expected that Gleiss would merge its six-lawyer Brussels office with Stibbes' when both move to new premises later this year.