Field Fisher unveils shock Euro alliance

Field Fisher Waterhouse has stepped up its international capability with the launch of an exclusive European alliance that could be the first step to a merged entity.
Field Fisher is launching the European Legal Alliance with Buse Heberer Fromm in Germany, Dubarry le Douarin Veil in France, Beauchamps in Ireland and Harper Macleod in Scotland.
The German member was part of Wedlake Bell's European alliance – as The Lawyer went to press, the firm's website was still advertising the link.
Buse Heberer partner Michael Nesselhauf was formerly a lawyer at Der Spiegel and currently acts as German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's press lawyer.
From 1 April 2002, each member will operate under the European Legal Alliance brand, which will be used in conjunction with its own name. Firms in Italy and Spain will be added shortly.
Cross-border matters will, at the option of the client, be managed by a single client partner and clients will receive a single bill. Knowledge and resources will be shared and secondments between firms have already begun. Each firm will have two seats on an executive board chaired by Field Fisher partner Christopher Bond.
The launch follows a lengthy due diligence exercise to find suitable firms for the alliance. There is some overlap with Field Fisher's existing Ecomlex association.
The launch is a clear signal of Field Fisher's decision to grow in Europe rather than accept marriage proposals from a series of US suitors.
Mark Abell, head of brands and technology, media and telecoms, explained: “Our priority has to be in Europe. We have a lot of work from a variety of US law firms. We saw the market in Europe as being a shrinking market in terms of available partners for us. We didn't want to focus on the US and find out that there wasn't anything for us in our home market.”
Abell described the alliance as an innovative “third way” for law firms.
He said: “Establishing large overseas offices wasn't viable. Likewise, making pan-European mergers work can be extremely difficult. The alliance will provide clients with all the service features of a merged firm without the issues associated with profit-sharing structures, which after all are of no interest to clients.”
The firms plan to implement a process of continual convergence and are not ruling out the possibility of profit-sharing and common management systems for the future. For now, fees will be shared on a case-by-case basis.
Harper Macleod has left the Commercial Law Affiliates (CLA) group, now rebranded as Meritas, to join the new alliance. Managing partner Lorne Crerar said that CLA had been very useful during his firm's formative years, but he did not want to breach his growing relationship with Field Fisher and Beauchamps.
In Ireland, Beauchamps is understood to be the first firm to sign up to a formal, exclusive alliance. Managing partner Imelda Reynolds said the launch was particularly timely because of the adoption of the euro.