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Eversheds London has acquired more than half of Frere Cholmeley Bischoff, together with its Paris and shared Moscow offices, in a merger agreement signed last week.
The national firm is taking on 25 partners and about 46 assistants, mainly in financial services, including leading lights Pamela Thompson, Richard Millar, and pensions partner Susan Andrews.
But Freres' entire private client and property departments are forming their own 11-partner, 55-fee-earner firm Forsters with private client department head David Willis as senior partner.
Peter Scott, Eversheds London managing partner, who negotiated the deal, said: "The people we are taking on are the ones we wanted." He said Eversheds had targeted Freres' financial services business and the media practice along with its Paris and Moscow offices.
But Eversheds' rivals reacted coolly to the move. "It's not a bad move for Eversheds, but not a dramatic one," said Pinsent Curtis senior partner Julian Tonks. John Heller, senior partner at Hammond Suddards, added: "They've achieved critical mass, but does it give them anything else?"
Talks between the two firms were first revealed by The Lawyer in March. Freres has been labouring under a substantial debt, but Scott said: "By the time the merger happens [on 1 August] the debt will be paid off. We don't take on other people's debts."
The move will increase the number of partners at Eversheds London office from 51 to 70, while the firm will have 333 partners.
Eversheds London's existing corporate commercial department is being split, with Freres partner Nick Valner heading the new commercial department and Eversheds partner Aleen Gulvnessian heading a new corporate and finance practice.
The firm is also about to recruit a leading tax lawyer from Deloitte & Touche to head its tax practice.
Alan Jenkins, Freres managing partner, will manage the foreign offices. But Paris corporate partner Ann Creelman Abboud and two avocats from her team have joined Watson Farley & Williams' office in the city.
The newly formed Forsters has two corporate/media partners as well as property and private client departments.
Willis said: "Forsters carries on the traditions... of one of London's longest established legal practices."
Former Freres financial services partner Kirstene Baillie has joined Field Fisher Waterhouse as head of the firm's investment funds and products group.