Grapevine

Poor old Travers Smith. It’s terribly good at midmarket buyouts, but absolutely hopeless when it comes to strategy.

As we report today (see story), the silver circle firm has announced it is closing its Berlin office. The question is, why did it ever open there in the first place. It’s not as if Travers has ever been interested in real estate or regulatory work.

Its one-partner operation, led by Karl Pilny, has now shifted to an increasingly confident Salans, which last year took over Haarman Hemmelrath’s Berlin office.

So why on earth did Travers open in Berlin? Instead of making a smart move and building links with likeminded firms in Munich, Travers panicked. Everyone else was scrambling to get into the country, so it launched in the least promising city of all. Excellent stuff.

Actually, there’s always been an element of me-tooism about Travers’ European strategy. Its Paris office was opened partly as a response to Macfarlanes‘ success in getting French work. Unfortunately, Travers’ near-invisible Paris operation has hardly been a rip-roaring success. (Most Travers partners have to be reminded they even have a French office, and then they’re hardly enthusiastic.)

Worryingly for Travers, other silver circle firms are miles ahead. Macfarlanes has established referral relationships with key independent firms on the Continent – a strategy that Berwin Leighton Paisner has also been refining for the past 18 months. Ashurst and SJ Berwin have built up chunky operations in key European jurisdictions.

Travers senior partner Alasdair Douglas thinks he has found the answer: find some independent firms to work with. The trouble is, Alasdair, most of the good ones are taken, and the others have barely heard of your firm. But good luck.

Catrin Griffiths, editor