Kendall Freeman seals US merger as insurance market reaches saturation

London-based Kendall Freeman’s merger with Boston firm Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge last Tuesday (30 October) has sparked speculation about which UK firm is next for a transatlantic merger.

Kendall Freeman is the second insurance and litigation-focused UK firm this year to merge with a US outfit, following Richards Butler’s union with US firm Reed Smith in January. This has caused conjecture that others will follow suit, with Barlow Lyde & Gilbert (BLG) at the top of the list.

BLG chief executive Clint Evans said the firm is not actively looking for a US merger at this time. “We can see the attraction for London firms of our size,” he said. “Firms who are contemplating this would have to be aware of the cultural fit between the UK and US firms.”

But Kendall Freeman has found its fit, as exclusively revealed on www.thelawyer. com (30 October), it will merge with the US firm on 1 January 2008, and will rebrand as Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge.

The 10-office US firm brought in a revenue of $305m (£165.76m) last year and recorded average profit per equity partner (PEP) of $740,000 (£402,000). Kendall Freeman’s 39 lawyers recorded a turnover of £15.3m, but the firm has seen PEP tumble by 9.3 per cent in the last financial year to £301,000 from £332,000 the previous year.

Edwards Angell co-managing partner Terry Finn said: “Over the past 10 years we’ve had an increase in the number of lawyers having to continually come over to the UK, so it was clear that we had to have a London presence. Other firms will definitely follow the same path.”

Edwards Angell also has strong footholds in antitrust and IP work, and for Kendall Freeman a big enticement is the US firm’s class action and mass tort division.

Kendall Freeman managing partner Laurence Harris said: “With the UK market seemingly going towards class actions, this gives us a good opportunity.”

However, some argue that London’s insurance and reinsurance market is at saturation point. BLG for one has suffered in recent years from a flatlining turnover, making it an obvious merger target.

One former BLG partner said: “Unless there happens to be a massive increase in litigation on the insurance side in London, a merger would be the most sensible option.”

Mergers in general have been considered by BLG. While UK firms have been considered for bulking up its corporate strength, it has talked to US suitors, but for the most part these talks have been superficial.

A former Kendall Freeman partner said that firms such as Kendall Freeman, which have reached the top of their game in the UK but have not been able to break into other markets, will be key targets.

“Using this criteria, Barlows is the first that springs to mind, but they do receive a lot of referral work from various US firms so it would be difficult for them to decide who they have the best fit with,” added the lawyer.

US appetite to move into the UK market has seen more than BLG’s door being knocked on. One Reed Smith partner said: “Nearly every insurance and reinsurance firm has had a US firm sniffing around.”