Stephenson Harwood is forging a pan-European base as it reveals plans to merge with associated firms in Italy and France before seeking a German merger partner.
The firm, known for its shipping practice with offices in far-flung locations, is now focusing on the Continent, The Lawyer can reveal.
Chief executive John Pike says Stephensons plans to wed associated firms De Berti Jacchia Perno & Associati in Italy and French firm Barbe Carpentier Thibault Groener, aiming for full integration in May 2000. He says the firms aim to unite under the Stephenson De Berti Barbe banner over the next year.
"There will be a rebranding," he promises.
In January the Stephenson Harwood Brussels office changed name to become Stephenson De Berti Barbe.
But Pike is keen the move is not perceived as a takeover by an Anglo-Saxon law firm and emphasises the firms' long-standing relationship.
"We want to integrate, not take anybody over," he emphasises. "The people we are joining with in France and Italy are people that know and trust us. If it works effectively we are going to seem less threatening. We hope the next phase will be easier because of it."
Germany is the next legal market target says Pike. But he says the firm is in no rush to select a local partner.
Stephenson Harwood already has offices in Madrid and Piraeus. In the Far East, the firm has offices in the People's Republic China, Singapore and Hong Kong.