Syed leads crack team into US merger; Vivendi Universal, Renault likely to follow
Watson Farley & Williams' Paris office is set to merge with San Francisco-based Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe in a move that will see the City firm lose its French presence and a number of key clients. The entire office, including all seven partners, will join Orrick over the next few months. They will be joined by at least two partners from Watson Farley's New York office. The move will give the 204-partner Californian firm its first office in Continental Europe. It will be used to beef up its London office, which has suffered a number of departures over the last year. However, Watson Farley's London office is likely to be reeling from the departures, which will deprive it of key clients such as Vivendi Universal, Renault, France Telecom and BNP Paribas. While the London office has a high profile in asset finance, and in particular in shipping, it has struggled in the past to attract large corporate clients. The loss of relationships from the Paris office would come as a blow. There are currently no partners joining Orrick from Watson Farley's London office. It is understood that Watson Farley's Paris office has talked to a number of US firms in the last year, including Weil Gotshal & Manges, Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, Latham & Watkins, Morrison Foerster and O'Melveny & Myers. However, Orrick is a good fit for Paris because, while it has a significant presence in New York, which is essential for Watson Farley's finance practice, it also has West Coast offices, which will be key for Vivendi. Orrick is particularly strong in structured finance and securitisation and its main clients are the US investment banks, in particular Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. But despite its strength in the US, Orrick's London office has suffered a number of defections during the last 18 months. In November 2000, securitisation partner Tamara Box moved to Ernst & Young's associated law firm Tite & Lewis. Then, in March 2001, managing partner and project finance specialist Ian Johnson left for DLA. He was followed in October by securitisation partners Jeanne Bartlett and Conor Downey. The defections were blamed on the firm's reluctance to invest in its London office and on its failed merger talks with Bird & Bird. In September, in a bid to turn the London office around, Orrick appointed Michael Bacon as partner-in-charge of international offices; he took over responsibility for the firm in London as well as in Tokyo and Singapore. Watson Farley's Paris managing partner David Syed has singlehandedly built up the Paris office, and it is understood that his role at Orrick will include developing its European operation. Once London is back on track, it is believed that Orrick will turn its attention to Germany, Italy and Spain. Orrick and Watson Farley in both Paris and London declined to comment.