Couderts denies merger rumours

COUDERT Brothers has hit back at speculation that it is facing a rocky future, amid rumours of merger talks between the firm and New York practice Mudge Rose Guthrie Alexander & Ferdon.

London administrative partner Steven Beharrell says the recent exodus from the 130-partner firm is a sign of natural attrition of “non-performing partners”, and claims Couderts is not seeking a merger to strengthen its domestic practice in the US.

He says Mudge Rose is one of a dozen firms with which Couderts has had “exploratory discussions”, but adds “there are no merger plans as such”.

“Couderts is constantly being approached by other firms because it has a large international network but isn't as big in America as some others,” says Beharrell. “Many people see it as a natural fit.

“People are constantly trying to tie Couderts up with someone else. They all want to go international and we are the quintessential international firm.

“There are a lot of people who want to merge and there are very few who we would like to merge with.”

However, Beharrell concedes that the Anglo/American giant has suffered “a very tough couple of years” which have resulted in a number of partner losses.

Last October 17 lawyers, including five partners, walked out of Couderts in Paris and New York to build new French practice Sokolow Dunaud Mercadier & Carreras.

A month later London partner Jeremy McCallum quit and international banking and finance partner Barry Metzger took a three-year leave of absence. Both took up in-house banking jobs.

They were followed by partners Christopher Haan and Peter Simpson, who quit the firm for Hammond Suddards only two years after their high-profile defection from SJ Berwin & Co.

Former Berwins' stablemate Dr Julian Lew also announced his departure from Couderts last week. He moves over to Herbert Smith.

But Beharrell says the London practice has moved from three to 30 fee-earners in five years and points out recent hirings, among them Lovell White Durrant's Alasdair Gordon and Clifford Chance's James Benger. A replacement for Lew, who leaves on 1 June, has also been signed.

The firm has been through a pretty substantial rationalisation during the last year,” says Beharrell.

“With the exception of Paris the losses were the result of a necessary reduction in capacity.

“In my view Coudert Brothers has been through a very tough couple of years. It has got itself down to size now.

“It's responsive, its billing rates are generally less than the equivalent London firm and it's got its cost base under very tight control. With each increase in turnover we're seeing a real direct increase in profit.”