Accountancy giant Deloitte & Touche is in talks with four "first-tier" Australian law firms to merge or form an association.
Sources from some of Australia's top firms tell The Lawyer that Freehill Hollingdale & Page - a 220-partner corporate firm with 700 lawyers nationwide - is the favoured target for a link-up with Deloitte & Touche - one of the world's big five accountancy firms.
A senior Deloitte & Touche source in Australia, who asks not to be named, confirms the firm is in talks with Freehills, which also has offices in Asia, and adds that discussions are also taking place with Mallesons Stephen Jaques, Clayton Utz and Allen Allen & Hemsley.
As reported by The Lawyer (2 August), Mallesons Stephen Jaques is in merger discussions with Clifford Chance.
The Deloitte & Touche source says: "We are currently talking with a number of firsttier firms and Freehills is one of them.
"I can confirm that Deloittes is interested in doing a deal with a law firm.
"We would like to bring a legal services side into the group. We do not know if we are going to acquire any of them, although we are interested in it. It could be a strategic alliance.
"In terms of what stage we're at in the talks, I would hope we were in negotiation with Freehills because it is an excellent firm. At the moment, we are still talking."
The source adds that whatever form the link takes, Deloitte & Touche will work hard to insure that the chosen law firm will be allowed to retain its own culture.
Freehills' national chairman, Peter Mansell, comments: "Freehill Hollingdale & Page, like most large law and professional service firms, has been actively considering its options in relation to global strategic alliances and associations.
"In considering the impact of globalisation on its businesses, Freehills had discussions with Deloitte & Touche, among other organisations, to assess its options. But these discussions were concluded some time ago."
He adds: "Freehills will continue to consider all options with a view to cementing its already strong position in the global professional services market."