Duane Morris

Duane Morris' merger proves that US/UK links can work

US firm Duane Morris & Heckscher and UK practice Geisler Laws will celebrate the first year anniversary of their merger on 28 June.
Partner Susan Laws says: “I think that sometimes people have concerns about US firms culturally – that it is not going to be a marriage made in heaven. For everybody here, it's business as usual with the extra benefit that we have been getting some very exciting work from the US.”
First Union, General Motors and Iveco Ford are key clients, as are First Hungary Fund, North American Bus Industries and Optare Holdings.
There are 450 lawyers and 170 equity partners worldwide, with UK partners Alex Geisler, Susan Laws and Jonathan Passman at equity level.
The projected turnover figure for this year is $170m (£120.8m) with just 3 per cent of that coming from the UK office, which has seven lawyers. However, the firm is recruiting: Jonathan Cohen from Bird & Bird is now confirmed as a new partner and hopes to start in mid-July, and another senior in-house counsel is joining soon. The plan in the UK is to grow to 25 lawyers. The US strategy is to double in size in the next two to five years.
Geislers was a small, six lawyer niche practice specialising in IT and the motor industry, before being taken over by Duane Morris. The firm had split from Rakisons in 1996 and was, in effect, part of the in-house counsel to big manufacturing clients, including General Motors.
Geisler says: “The point of this firm is that the combination of our in-house expertise coupled with the clout of a major US law firm means that we can and do sell to US-parented multinationals with European operations.”
Chairman Sheldon Bonovitz says: “Firmwide intellectual property is the fastest growth area, with 25 patent lawyers. Ultimately we would like to be a full-service firm in London.”
Diversification is also on the agenda, with a brand protection subsidiary planned. Wescott Strategic Advisors is a recently-formed crisis management firm, part of Duane Morris' aggressive diversification into non-legal business.
The latest recruit, yet to be confirmed, is said to have extensive non-legal expertise. He is expected to promote at least some of the nine Wescott businesses in the UK.
Bonowitz says: “We think that our culture is very important. We won't sacrifice culture for business. We don't have lockstep, it's a much more flexible incentive-driven system.”
Laws claims: “We don't have an eat-what-you-kill partnership, it's all very collegial – management by consensus. We're not the most profitable firm in the US, but I think the nicest thing is the balance. You don't have to sell your soul.”
In 1999-2000 Geislers' profits per partner were understood to be around £300,000, while Duane Morris's were closer to £200,000.
In the UK, Laws says the firm will be targeting litigation and real estate next.