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AN OLD friendship between two South African ex-pats has brought US insurance law giant Cozen & O'Connor into a co-operation agreement with Westminster firm Radcliffes.
As its first move towards establishing a London office, Cozens - which with 125 partners is the 20th biggest law firm in the US - is to share the office space of 36-partner Radcliffes.
The idea came about when lawyer Stan Joffe went to work for the US firm and suggested that it might contact fellow South African, Liddon Simon, Radcliffes' former managing partner, to help in its search for a UK base.
The two firms have since co-operated for several years in the area of international tax planning on an informal basis.
But David Strawbridge, head of the new office, stresses that this is not the courtship prior to a shotgun marriage.
"The co-operation agreement leaves us with a wide range of possibilities, one of which is a merger. But we are not rushing into anything and want to have time to get to know each other."
Radcliffes' managing partner, Richard Price, says he is hoping to make use of Cozen's expertise.
"Radcliffes is not known as an insurance firm and that is an area in which Cozen is very strong. I am hoping that some of its knowledge will rub off on us."
Cozens, which has around 200 of its 320 lawyers working exclusively on insurance cases, worked on the Lockerbie air crash and the Exxon Valdez oil-spill cases.
UK solicitor Johnathan D Lass will be part of the initial team and in a month's time New York-based Peter Pepasavas will be joining him, once his work permit has come through.
Depending on the success of the venture, Cozens hopes to take on more UK and US solicitors later in the year.