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Simmons & Simmons is aiming to compete with the leading UK firms in international securities by forming a London-based joint venture with New York practice Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson.
The venture - to be called the International Securities Unit - will be based in
Simmons' London office. It will be staffed by one Fried Frank New York corporate partner who will move to London in the next few weeks with "one or two" associates, and three Simmons partners and their assistants.
The three are corporate partner Colin Leaver - who will manage the unit - and banking and capital markets partners Ian Sideris and John Russell, who came up with the idea for the venture a year ago.
Simmons senior partner Bill Knight commented: "We think this is an innovative solution to the problem of obtaining US capability."
Both firms said a full merger had not been discussed but neither side had completely ruled it out. Peter Cobb, managing partner of Fried Frank, said Fried Frank expected to provide additional partners to the unit "at some point in the the future".
Associations and joint ventures between US and UK firms have been tried, largely unsuccessfully, in the past. But Cobb said: "Those have been more just agreements to undertake a dual representation or a joint referral, whereas we have created a single integrated unit with dual law capabilities."
The unit will be expected to develop its own client base - particularly aimed at investment banks - which will be billed separately from the two parent firms.
Leading City securities firms poured cold water on the move, pointing out that Simmons had dropped down the league tables for international listings in recent months and that one US partner would not catapult it into the same league as Clifford Chance, Linklaters & Paines, Allen & Overy and Freshfields for capital markets work.
Leaver said: "A number of US firms that we might have approached ruled themselves out because they were already hiring English capability in their London offices.
"Of those that were not, we recognised that Fried Frank was probably the best so we started speaking to them with this idea."