So Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) has finally managed to snare US capability in the shape of a strategic alliance with New York firm Kramer Levin. You can just hear it: Kramer who? Here's the bluffer's guide: solid New York practice, good on real estate, bankruptcy and litigation, strong finances, with average profits per partner of $795,000 (£510,000). And some top-flight billers, too: take partner Thomas Constance, who is responsible for some $20m a year from the likes of Bear Stearns. The joint venture approach is suddenly very voguish. For the magic circle, alliances are too fragile and merger (or rather takeover) is the only way; for smaller firms, alliances are attractively flexible. The more sceptical of us would argue that BLP could be deferring the difficult decisions. Amid the euphoria of striking the deal, the alliance needs some forward momentum or it will end up marooned. Although BLP partners will no doubt point out that Mayer Brown Rowe & Maw isn't strictly a merger either, the difference is that MBR&M can't yet merge fully because of LLP issues. It is, however, acting like a merged firm, with R&M driving the European expansion. Kramer Levin is still an unknown quantity in Europe, but this joint venture is consistent with its highly devolved Continental practice. Indeed, the question is whether BLP will have much say over Kramer's French operation, which even when it was part of Rogers & Wells was notoriously semi-detached from the US side, and still acts independently. The US-UK alliance suddenly makes BLP a credible contender for picking up capability in key jurisdictions, though there are few independent firms left in Germany by now. With this alliance sorted, Neville Eisenberg and Harold Paisner will be spending a lot of time in Madrid and Amsterdam as well. Significantly, BLP hasn't been hung up on getting a firm with a well-known brand name outside the US. It hasn't had to persuade a bunch of patrician partners that this US firm is somehow good enough (Freshfields and Ashursts might want to take note). But I'm willing to bet the real effects will be felt in New York. Kramer Levin didn't need to do this; it could have continued perfectly well in the domestic US arena. The fact that one of the strongest firms in the AmLaw 200 has done a transatlantic deal will really get Wall Street talking.