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LINKLATERS is poised this week to take the lead in the race with Clifford Chance and Freshfields to dominate Europe by forming the world's largest federation of lawyers - "Linklaters & Alliance", made up of around 1,800 lawyers.
This Thursday, all 221 partners at the firm will vote on a management committee recommendation to join leading German firm Oppenhoff & RAdler and three other members of the Alliance of European Lawyers in a pan European federation, led by Linklaters.
The way was cleared for the Linklaters vote after partners at Oppenhoffs voted "yes" to the long-awaited federation on 4 July.
But Spanish member of the alliance, Ur'a & Menéndez, is staying out of the deal for the time being. Managing partner Rodrigues Ur'a said: "At the moment we are not part of the project."
A source close to the negotiations said that if Ur'a pulled out, the remaining alliance members - Oppenhoff, Dutch firm De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek, Belgium firm De Bandt van Hecke & Lagae and Swedish firm Lagerlof & Leman - would go ahead without them.
Sources say that two weeks ago the deal hung in the balance as partners at Oppenhoff were split over the merger's merits.
But when they were forced to decide, 96 per cent of the 140 partners voted in favour of it. The firm needed 80 per cent to proceed.
Following the Oppenhoff vote, Ur'a flew to Germany on Wednesday to meet senior partner Michael Oppenhoff. But Oppenhoff has so far been unable to persuade Ur'a to bring his firm into the new federation.
The "all or nothing" negotiating stance that the alliance members adopted at the start of negotiations with Linklaters was dropped after French member Jeantét & Associés walked out of the deal. Terence Kyle at Linklaters has always stressed that his firm would expand "jurisdiction by jurisdiction".
If the federation does go ahead, Linklaters will be in a good position to pursue its expansion plans in other European jurisdictions.
With 1,800 lawyers, it will edge ahead of Clifford Chance, which has 1,640 in Europe.
Italy will be a priority for Linklaters, with Chiomenti the preferred partner.