Outgrowing your friends

I yield to no one in my delight that Nabarro has secured another alliance member, in the shape of Spanish firm Roca Junyent.

However, as a model, the alliance is looking increasingly quaint in the face of market consolidation, a trend that can’t be better exemplified than in the merger talks between Pinsent Masons and McGrigors, as revealed by TheLawyer.com last week, which will potentially create the 12th-largest firm by turnover in the country.

This looks like being the year – Nabarro notwithstanding – that the alliance as a model is definitively ditched. And about time too, as Herbies will testify; as indeed will Pinsents, whose relationship with Salans was wan at best. In the same vein, what are we to make of Willkie’s eccentric tie-up with Dickson Minto? The best that can be said of it is that it was a pure place-holding exercise dressed up as a strategic decision.

Certainly, the Anglo-Scottish partnership has the control-freakishness that your average white-shoe firm might, on the face of it, identify with. But Dickson Minto has – and has always had – startlingly difficult succession issues that mar its long-term prospects. At least most alliances give a nod to joint initiatives, but for Willkie, Dickson Minto is just a referral vessel. This is a dead parrot of a relationship.

The fact that Willkie is getting itchy at its lack of UK capability was demonstrated when it hired litigation partner Peter Burrell from Herbies.

How long will it hold out before calling in the headhunters again? But when Davis Polk decides to raid Freshfields -as it did earlier this month – you know things are shifting in Wall Street.

Traditionally, white-shoe firms’ Hyacinth Bucket-style approach to recruitment has stymied their progress; apparently only magic circle partners are worthy of attention (plus, at a push, those from Herbies and Ashurst). But, as Matt Byrne notes in his feature this week, the restructuring at Linklaters will throw up a number of rather good candidates. If Willkie partners don’t grab this opportunity, more fool them.