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Global law firm network Meritas (previously known as CLA), has selected a new UK member after 14 months of talks with four UK firms
West End property and media firm Finers Stephens Innocent will replace old UK member Hammond Suddards Edge, which pulled out in 2001 to pursue its own international strategy. Finers plugs a gap in Meritas's European network after Swedish firm Gedda & Ekdahl and Scottish firm Harper Macleod also pulled out last year. Gedda merged with Bird & Bird while Harper Macleod joined Field Fisher Waterhouse's new European alliance. According to Meritas's European managing director Michael Faulkner, finding a UK member has been the network's most crucial task. "Like most alliances, we're grounded by our UK member in Europe as the UK is such a sophisticated legal market," he said. Joining Meritas, which has 24 European members and 184 members worldwide, is a coup for Finers, which has so far lacked access to a European network. The firm, led by partner Michael Simmons, previously helped set up a referral network in the US - the Network of Leading Law Firms - but it has now resigned from the group. Finers international partner Mark Stephens said: "We have international clients with global reach who we can now offer a proper service. Before, our clients were using the international offices of other firms. With Meritas, they can stay in the network, and pay local rates for the service." Finers has a number of clients - such as jewellery manufacturer Cartier - in common with other Meritas firms. Finers managing partner Anthony Barling said that his firm has already started sending work to other Meritas firms, and has received a referral for a $5m (£3.44m) deal. Stephens' own client US publisher Dow Jones is already using one of the Meritas firms in Australia. Faulkner told The Lawyer that by this spring, Finers was the only UK firm in the race for Meritas membership. Finers was presented to the rest of the Meritas members in March at the association's conference in San Diego. Meritas has also performed due diligence on the firm, primarily by talking to clients Finers has in common with other Meritas firms. Faulkner, who is British-born, said that Finers has a natural synergy with the other European Meritas members, such as respected Italian firm Studio Legale Tonucci, as it has a more entrepreneurial spirit than other UK firms. "There are some UK corporate practices which are good at law but they can seem somewhat stodgy. We needed international entrepreneurs," he said. Meritas missed its self-imposed deadline of 30 November 2001 to find a new UK member. It is understood to have been turned down by Taylor Joynson Garrett and to have fallen out of talks with Nabarro Nathanson and Barlow Lyde & Gilbert before plumping for Finers.