The merger of major French law firm SG Archibald and the world-wide business consulting group Arthur Andersen continues to generate a lot of heat in France, three years after the event. Much of it is professional rivalry, but the merger is a reminder to the professions that rationalisation will be necessary if it is to compete on an international footing.
Xavier du Sarrau, Arthur Andersen International's managing partner says: “With the benefit of three years' hindsight, I can say it was more hard work than we anticipated, but otherwise all our assumptions – projections for client and staff retention – have been met.
“For instance, we were expecting to retain 85 per cent of our fees and 70 per cent of our staff and we have done better on both. The only disappointment has been our litigation department, but that is not really our cup of tea anyway.
“Our ambition was to achieve a balanced firm, comprising 50 per cent tax consultants and 50 per cent lawyers and we believe we have achieved that.
Du Sarrau adds: “Recruitment is another important issue for us. At the moment, we have a relatively young pyramid structure in the firm. We are now going out aggressively to recruit more experienced lawyers, which is not going to be particularly easy.”
Labour law has always been an important speciality in France. It is one that du Sarrau intends to target in the coming months. “The labour markets are becoming more and more sophisticated. Labour law, therefore, requires active planning.”
The firm will continue to focus on the more traditional areas of law. “We are still small by Anglo-Saxon standards so it is wise for us to focus on our core areas. New areas like ADR will be for tomorrow. Arbitration has a great future in France, but we are not ready to get into it. It is too early.”
Much has been made of the year 1997, when French firms will have to stop referring to any links with accounting firms. However, du Sarrau insists the firm's name will not change.
“Do they really expect us to commit suicide? Nothing will change in 1997. I plan to do absolutely nothing. We will not refer to the Arthur Andersen logo, but we stopped doing that three years ago. As far as changing our name goes, we will simply not budge,” he says.