The Leader Column

Enough, already. It's rather a relief to be in a city that isn't obsessed with the Clifford Chance associates' memo. In New York, that's so last month.

CC's woes haven't advanced the cause of the transatlantic merger. Certain UK partners like to think that the recession on Wall Street will force top US law firms to look internationally for work, but this is so misguided it's laughable. New York lawyers are simply not hurting, and the market isn't half so competitive as in London. There are fewer big deals, but their litigation practices – and let's not forget that litigation underpins US firms in a way that transactional work underpins City practices – are booming. Several US managing partners even expect next year's numbers to be higher. As John Morris argues in his compelling piece on page US2 of this issue, the very notion of a global firm may need re-examining. 'Global' in the way the Brits mean it simply doesn't play in the US.

For the big beasts, CC is virtually an irrelevance and Mayer Brown Rowe & Maw – whose New York office has a lot less of the high Yankee seriousness (er, not to say self-importance) than its peers – is not seen here as having gained an extra edge through the UK merger. That said, Chicago-based Mayer Brown's status as an out-of-town firm also seems to disqualify it from comparison with the Manhattan giants.

Meanwhile, the Ashursts-Fried Frank talks are being met with universal bemusement – a bemusement that, at times, edges into derision. I am yet to meet one New York lawyer who understands the business case, and that's before you get into any discussion of culture. The hostility in Manhattan to doing a transatlantic deal can be summed up in one word: dilutive. Dilutive not just of partner profits, but of culture. The top Wall Street firms rarely make lateral hires; Simpson Thacher has made seven in the past two decades and that's pretty racy by Sullivan & Cromwell or Cravath standards. In fact, I met only one New York firm which did not dismiss a transatlantic deal out of hand, and even that was grudging (for a small fee, Mr Salz, I'll let you know the name).

The sad truth is that US firms see UK firms in the way that the magic circle regards the Australian practices: good lawyers and all that, but too big and too unprofitable. Not even an Ashursts or a Squire Sanders-Watson Farley deal could change that.