Squire Sanders’ merger with Washington DC’s Patton Boggs was viewed by many as a rescue for the latter. European managing partner Peter Crossley reveals why the tie-up was necessary for his firm too.
Back when merger talks between Texas-based Locke Lord and US lobbying giant Patton Boggs were leaked last year (20 December 2013), few were surprised that Patton Boggs – faced with a toxic mix of falling revenues, staff redundancies, and a multi-million dollar legal battle with oil giant Chevron – was looking for a buddy up.
Nor was anyone too surprised when Squire Sanders (and later, Dentons) waded in some months later (4 March 2014). Although Patton Boggs had seen revenues sludge in the last two years, it was still viewed as one of the US’ pre-eminent public policy and lobbying Beltway firms.
So two weeks after the firm sorted out its issues with Chevron via a $15m settlement (14 May 2014), partners at Squire Sanders and Patton Boggs agreed to merge. Barely had the ink on the merger agreement dried before the market pegged the deal as a rescue mission for one side, the next chapter of the same expansionist book for the other.
If that was the case, then the merged firm’s name – Squire Patton Boggs – is unusual. Why would Squire Sanders, the larger of the two with 1,300 lawyers, volunteer to ditch its “Sanders” name to take on the title Patton Boggs? After all, legacy Squire Sanders & Dempsey had no qualms swallowing up UK legacy Hammonds’ name four years ago (24 August 2010).
“Patton Boggs needed a merger but Squire Sanders needed it as well. Let’s be clear on that,” insists European managing partner Peter Crossley four days into the merger, when we meet in an office already branded with Squire Patton Boggs stationery.
“We changed the name because of the identity of Patton Boggs in Washington DC and the Middle East,” adds Crossley. ”Although Squire Sanders has been in DC for nearly 40 years, we didn’t have the same brand in the Washington DC market place.”
Presumably Squire Sanders Patton Boggs was too much of a mouthful?
“Four names would have been too long, and difficult for us in Asia Pacific,” Crossley admits.
Moving the conversation away from the merged firm’s name, Crossley explains that the merger was essential for the transatlantic outfit to gain heft in the US.
“The US legal market is the market that is most capable of producing work which would benefit the whole network,” he says. ”I read somewhere that the majority of every dollar of legal spend has a connection in some direct or indirect way with the US.
”In the legal sector you can get blinded by the emerging markets, but the US sector is still dominant and where the most opportunities still exist.”
For former Hammonds managing partner Crossley, this is his second experience of merging with a US firm. Is a tie-up the only way a UK firm can stand a chance in the states?
“Yes, that’s where it’s going,” he says, pointing out that the stronger a firm is in its local market, the more challenging it is to find a suitable merger partner.
”The referral thing doesn’t work because of the necessity to provide uniformity of service, uniformity of reporting and uniformity of pricing,” he argues.
With America on the agenda, where does Crossley – as the European voice of the firm – see Squire Patton Boggs in 10 years time?
“I’ve been a managing partner for ten years, and whatever market I came into in 2004 is not remotely like the one I’m in in 2014,” he says. “Consolidation in the legal sector is an unstoppable force.”