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Merger talks between Norton Rose and Gaedertz have been thrown into disarray with the German firm's failure to approve the link-up.
A partner vote at Gaedertz failed to secure the minimum 80 per cent approval required from partners. It is understood that the result fell some way below the requisite level.
"There was some difference in opinion over what structure a law firm should take," says Gaedertz partner Jörge Soehring. "I don't know whether we'll have another vote - we're still analysing what happened at the meeting and we want the opportunity to discuss the situation."
Norton Rose managing partner Roger Birkby says: "Naturally we're disappointed at this development, but as other examples in Germany show, this is not necessarily a straightforward process. We are continuing to explore what the possibilities may be. Whatever the outcome of this analysis, Norton Rose will proceed to establish an office in Germany with all speed."
Norton Rose partners met over the weekend (18-19 November) at a conference in Brighton to discuss the merger, but did not take a vote.
"We didn't have a vote," says senior partner David Lewis. "The partnership is united in wanting to form a pan-European group."
However, Norton Rose's failure to gain a high enough majority may leave the door open for Eversheds, Gaedertz's other suitor.
It is understood that both UK firms had been talking to Gaedertz for some time, before the partners at the German firm took a vote earlier this year on which firm it would enter into negotiations with.
Sources close to the firm say that there was just a single vote separating Norton Rose from Eversheds.
One source says that since Eversheds was narrowly voted out of the picture, it has been reviewing its options about entering the German market, but still has a specific interest in building up a presence in commercial law.
But it is also understood that it has held talks with a number of other German firms, including BBLP Beiten Burkhardt Mittl & Wegener.
Gaedertz has 88 partners and 194 lawyers in 11 offices; Norton Rose has 131 partners and 636 lawyers.
Norton Rose already has offices in Paris, Brussels, Milan, Moscow, Warsaw, Bahrain, Singapore and Bangkok, and has set up a joint venture in Prague and a securities practice in the US.