SPAIN'S sixth-largest firm, Mullerat & Roca, is to break up, paving the way for one faction to merge with a UK firm.
The firm's head office in Barcelona has split into two camps, each led by one of its joint senior partners, Ramon Mullerat and Sebastian Roca.
The Mullerat camp is seeking an international merger or alliance, whereas the other side wants an independent Spanish practice.
The firm's three-equity partner Madrid office, led by Javier Bustamente, is caught in the middle and is awaiting the outcome of Mullerat and Roca's separate discussions with UK and Spanish firms, before deciding which group to join.
Clifford Chance is believed to be holding talks with Mullerat, although two other rumoured merger partners - Freshfields and accountants Pricewaterhouse Coopers - are both understood to have ruled out any interest in the firm.
Linklaters & Alliance may also make a move. Obtaining a Spanish presence is a priority for Linklaters, after leading Madrid firm Uria & Menendez refused to join it.
Ramon Mullerat told The Lawyer: "We have decided on the demerger because the two old firms which merged to create Mullerat & Roca had different views on the future.
"Our side wanted to expand more internationally, the Roca partners wanted to concentrate on developing the local practice."
Bustamente, of the Madrid office, said: "We have been talking to various UK firms as well as Spanish firms."
However, he would not reveal the identity of the firms in question.
But he added: "It's not our intention to delay matters. A decision is expected in the next two or three weeks."
With 17 partners and over 70 fee earners, Mullerat & Roca is best known for its corporate, litigation and intellectual property practices.
The firm's decision to split is the latest development in the current shake-up in the Spanish legal market.
Two weeks ago The Lawyer revealed that Pricewaterhouse Coopers was in merger talks with 52-lawyer Madrid firm Estudio Legal, with a view to creating the second-largest firm in Spain.