Hammonds’ brand: going, going, nearly gone

Hammonds and US ­firm Squire Sanders & Dempsey are on course to complete the latest transatlantic tie-up after the ­proposed merger last week (5 November) received the overwhelming backing of both partnerships.

More than 90 per cent of the firms’ partners voted in favour of the merger, which will go live on 1 January 2011.

Debate on the subject on TheLawyer.com has focused on the fact that the new ­entity will operate under two names. In the UK, Europe and Asia the merged firm will be called Squire Sanders Hammonds, but in the US, Eastern Europe and Latin America the Hammonds brand will not feature and the firm will simply be known as Squire Sanders
& Dempsey.

This has led to speculation that the tie-up is less a merger of equals and more a case of the US firm boltingon a UK and Europe ­practice, with fears that the Hammonds name could be dropped altogether.

“If the merger goes ahead the Hammonds name will go within a year,” says one TheLawyer.com contributor.

“It is an interesting reflection on the comparative strength of both the reputation of the Hammonds name and the firm’s negotiating position in this transaction,” adds another.

Yet others point to similar mergers such as Mayer Brown’s tie-up with Rowe & Maw or Reed Smith’s with Richards Butler, which both saw the UK firms’ names dropped within several years.

James Maiwurm, the current Squire Sanders chair and the man who will become global chair and CEO of the new firm, insists the Hammonds “name and brand is important”, but adds: “We’ll preserve the name for at least three years and look at it then. Three years is a lifetime in today’s world and we expect to be a very different firm by then.”

Asked how the firm will be branded on its website, Maiwurm replies: “We haven’t figured that out yet, but you’re not going to see the Hammonds name disappear.”

While Hammonds managing partner Peter Crossley, who will become Europe managing partner in the merged firm, concedes that this is an “emotive issue”, he says he wants people to focus on the substance of the merger.

The new firm will have 1,275 lawyers across 37 offices in 17 countries and a sizeable presence in all of the world’s most important financial centres.

With a combined turnover of $625m (£388.17m) it is on course to break into The Lawyer’s top 50­international firms by ­revenue.

That said, both Crossley and Maiwurm are keen to point out that the deal is a client-led move and not growth for the sake of it.

Suggestions that Hammonds was operating from a weak negotiating position is also harsh. Of the 13 ­positions on the global board, five have gone to Hammonds partners, which seems fair for a firm that is roughly a third of the size
of its US counterpart by ­revenue.

Crossley also claims that the firm’s management structure is more integrated than has been the case with other recent transatlantic tie-ups, and that there will be no Hogan Lovells or SNR Denton-style co-heads. It is Maiwurm who will be “our leader”, stresses Crossley.

The firm will, however, operate under a Swiss Verein structure and have separate partnerships and profit pools, but by next year the firm’s lawyers will operate under the same merit-based remuneration system.

There are four locations where the firms both have offices – Beijing, Brussels, Hong Kong and London. In London the Squire Sanders team will move into ­Hammonds’ office and in Brussels the Hammonds team will move to Squire Sanders’. In Beijing both firms are already in the same building, leaving Hong Kong as the only ­location where the ­combined firm will need to find new space.

The emerging markets of Asia and Latin America are seen as key areas of growth for the new firm, but ­Maiwurm adds: “We know we’re not going to be a ­finished product in Europe and the US, and we’ll look at opportunities to grow in ways that make strategic sense. It depends on clients and practice opportunities.”