The Herbert Smith-Gleiss Lutz-Stibbe best friends alliance has become significantly more intimate, with office-sharing arrangements now in place across Europe and Asia.
In a parallel move, the firms have introduced tripartite documentation for use on major cross-border deals. Gleiss will close its Shanghai office and refer all of its Asian in-country work to Herbert Smith. The UK firm has just been granted a second licence in China and is set to open in Shanghai. The German firm will have no permanent staff in Asia, but will advise on Hong Kong and Singapore law issues from Frankfurt. Its UK best friend will make space available for Gleiss lawyers on short-term secondments to Shanghai. Gleiss partner Gerhard Wegen said: “This way, we have international flavour and manage to keep our clients.” Gleiss will provide a desk to its best friends in Prague and Warsaw. Herbert Smith will offer the same service in Moscow. The best friends plan to take joint office space in Brussels, but will continue to operate as separate firms. The move follows Stibbe’s decision last year to slim down its domestic Belgian practice to fit in with its alliance partners. The three firms have also drawn up joint documentation for cross-border finance, corporate and M&A deals, as well as international litigation and arbitration. Herbert Smith partner Richard Fleck said: “We’ve been working hard to demonstrate a coordinated approach, both in presentation and substance.” Both sides deny that the moves pre-empt a merger; the feeling from Germany in particular is that there will be no financial integration. However, when the alliance was formed, the three firms did due diligence on partnership structure, clients and pensions. Wegen claims that if the market demands it, there are no obstacles to a merger.