Proskauer funds team to drive SJ Berwin talks

After Orrick rejection, SJ Berwin targets global private equity via US tie-up

Proskauer Rose’s funds team has emerged as the driving force behind the proposed merger with SJ Berwin, according to sources familiar with the ­situation.

It was revealed last week (TheLawyer.com, 6 May) that the two firms have entered into early-stage discussions around a ­potential tie-up following the news that another US suitor, Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe, pulled out of talks with the City firm.

The key advocates in the Proskauer funds practice are alumni of Testa Hurwitz & Thibeault, the Boston firm that dissolved in 2005 and with which SJ Berwin enjoyed a close relationship in the early 2000s. They include co-head of corporate Robin Painter and funds co-head David Tegeler.

One partner familiar with the firm said: “The funds group in Boston will be ­pretty keen, but beyond that there’s not much ­[geographical] overlap.”

The audacious play would put a merged firm into the global top 30, with a ­combined revenue of approximately £620m. SJ Berwin’s desire to become a global player in funds work is in contrast to Hogan Lovells’ full-service approach.

A narrower focus would have the distinct brand advantage, with SJ Berwin reverting to its ­international strategy of the late 1990s, which saw it acquire
funds practices in Germany and France.

However, some have already questioned the logic of the tie-up.

“Proskauer have never really done much outside of America. They’ve dabbled, but they haven’t developed an international strategy,” said one former SJ Berwin partner.

Between July 2007 and September 2008 Proskauer established offices in ­London, Paris, Beijing, Hong Kong and São Paolo. However, none of these practices have partner ­headcounts in double ­figures.

The move would represent a U-turn for the New York firm, which has been trying to build in London through laterals since failed talks with Richards Butler in 2005. The most recent hire saw Travers Smith funds chief Robert Barry join last September.