Orrick in merger talks with Pillsbury

San Francisco-based Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe has begun merger talks with Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, the latest move by the US firm under new boss Mitch Zuklie. 

The step follows an operational review of Orrick under Zuklie’s leadership, resulting in the lay-off of two senior executives and 21 support staff in June (10 June 2013). Zuklie was unveiled as chairman-elect last October, replacing Ralph Baxter who had led the US firm for 23 years (12 November 2013).

It is not yet known how advanced the merger talks are, but if a tie-up goes ahead it would create a $1.4bn US firm with two offices in London. Baxter told The Lawyer last year that he was “always” looking for potential merger opportunities to grow the London office.

He said: ”It’s true that we’re not big enough [in London]. Orrick has been ambitious but we haven’t made the progress we’d like to have made. However, we’re determined – London is mission-critical for us. I’m always looking for teams and potential merger opportunities but they’re few and far between.

“There are more than 100 US law firms in London all trying to do the same thing. You have to be realistic, it’s the most competitive legal market in the world.”

Orrick had two failed attempts at potentially transformative deals in the past, with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in October 2010 and SJ Berwin in May the same year. The failed SJ Berwin merger in particular highlighted one of the biggest ongoing problems at Orrick and an urgent item on Zuklie’s agenda – namely, what to do about London.  

However sources have kept quiet on how this tie-up could impact on either firm’s London office, with one insider claiming they didn’t know anything about it.

Pillsbury was left with just one full-time partner in its London office after a raid by Bird & Bird in 2007 (1 October 2007). Firmwide chairman Jim Rishwain jetted into London some months later, vowing to spearhead the firm’s attempts to rebuild its City office (14 January 2008).

In August, the firm expanded through the hire of a two-partner team from Canadian firm Gowlings. London-based IP lawyers James Tumbridge and Paul Harris have since joined Pillsbury’s London office (30 August 2013).

Meanwhile, Orrick has seen a string of heavy-hitting partner departures has littered Orrick’s City history, with recent exits including former London head Martin Bartlam, who joined DLA Piper in January 2012, banking partner Elisabeth Gaunt, who joined Taylor Wessing at the start of 2012 and European co-head of restructuring Mark Fennessy, who left with fellow restructuring partner Hazel Miller for Dewey & LeBoeuf (both partners are now at Proskauer Rose). 

Read more about Zuklie’s appointment here.