Oh look, some green shoots. No, I’m not being deluded. I know it’s bloody out there, but it’s heartening to be running not one, but two stories about major law firms in expansionist mode. It’s certainly a welcome change from the ghastly litany of redundancies and insolvencies.
The first story is BLP’s extraordinary move in taking on no fewer than 70 lawyers in Moscow (see story). Subtext: don’t write the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) economies off too soon. And let’s hope Neville Eisenberg is calling the market right.
The second is the news that Camerons is actively seeking a bolt-on with a smaller firm, preferably with a corporate bias (see story). This is not the barking mad idea that it at first sounds. Rather, it reflects a distinct shift within the CMS alliance.
CMS Hasche Sigle enjoys an extraordinary domestic status as the the king of the upper mid-market – a bit like Travers Smith on steroids.
Camerons, as part of its project to synchronise its business with its Continental alliance firms, therefore has to reshape its business. It’s all part of Camerons’ long-term plan to woo its allies into merger. Wooing is the operative word, since Camerons boss Duncan Weston has to play a delicate political game, as he is required to consult all eight other managing partners in the CMS network.
This all began at a partnership retreat at the IMD business school in Switzerland last summer. The Camerons partners were presented with three merger options: transformative (being swallowed up by a larger firm), consolidatory (with a similar-sized rival), or the pearl. The first two were unacceptable, while the third was the only option that would enhance the firm’s trans-European cohesion.
Still, as Eversheds, Wragges and a whole host of others will tell you, it’s not easy finding a really good fit in London. One might imagine that the stellar brands – Macfarlanes and Travers Smith, for example – might be slightly more amenable to merger approaches nowadays, but that is wildly to misunderstand their cultures.
They may be suffering, but they’re not out cold.