The Leader Column

This Ashursts – Fried Frank thing: going nowhere, right? You might have thought the talks couldn't get any slower, given that The Lawyer first revealed a year ago that the two firms were sniffing each other's tails.
To start with, the talks centred on cooperating on structured finance. The Ashursts argument then on US securities capability went something like this: pump it up to the stage where we can credibly service the larger European M&A deals and we won't lose out to the magic circle. The same logic underpinned the widening of the talks over the next few months – although Ashursts is still open to offers from other firms, according to one source close to the process.
Yet around the City there are people scratching their heads. After all, if Ashursts couldn't stomach the laid-back (by US standards) Latham culture, the feisty New Yorkers at Fried Frank are even stronger meat for the chaps in Appold Street. Here's a brief excerpt from Fried Frank's website, which goes into huge detail on its staffing mix: “In the NY office, in 2000, an African-American woman became a partner at the firm. The firm also has an Hispanic partner. Of our openly gay and lesbian attorneys, two are partners, two are special counsel and two are associates.” Bearing in mind that the US market is hyper-aware of diversity issues, can you imagine anything like this on the Ashursts site? No, me neither.
Ah, but here's the oddest thing. Up until two years ago, the Ashursts partnership was positively groaning with posh blokes, with only three women having gained entry. But lo! For then appeared fourteen female partners – two in 2000, a whopping 10 in 2001 and two this year. Anyone would think that Ashursts realised it may have been lagging behind in the old diversity stakes.
Fried Frank's public commitment to inclusiveness is highly commendable, of course. But its use of language in this context points to a wider difference between the UK and the US. Speak to any lawyer from a UK firm with a substantial US component and they'll say the same: the biggest obstacle to US-UK deals is culture, and in particular the whole PC phenomenon. Now, some of us would say that a mild dose of political correctness might be rather welcome in certain City firms, but on the whole, transatlantic mergers mean that UK lawyers have to learn to speak American without tears. And that's a whole new dialect.