A&O has stepped up its merger scenario planning over the past year, with more than 100 partners attending sessions at Judge Business School in Cambridge to assess the benefits of a merger.
Sources confirmed that senior A&O managers had lunch with their counterparts at Freshfields and made the suggestion, which was immediately rebuffed by Freshfields. At first A&O officially denied the approach, but when The Times copied The Lawyer's story and mistakenly merged it with a completely separate story in the same edition, both firms went into damage limitation mode.
The Lawyer had also reported that 30 Freshfields partners were to retire to take advantage of favourable pensions terms before the scheme was changed, and The Times mashed the stories together. After The Telegraph followed The Times' lead, there were panicked internal emails from Freshfields co-senior partners Kostantin Mettenheimer and Guy Morton and A&O senior partner Guy Beringer.
Lawyer News Weekly reported in Grapevine (2 August) that the senior partners emailed their respective firms to deny 'merger discussions', but notably did not deny the 'merger approach'.
Despite the fact that much of the City was on holiday, news kept flooding out of the magic circle. On 7 August The Lawyer revealed that Clifford Chance was gearing up for management elections with current senior partner Stuart Popham set to stand again and with the firm's banking and capital markets chiefs also readying themselves for election.
Meanwhile, the summer lull did little to quell City corporate teams' fears that a dearth of suitably qualified associates might derail their booming M&A practices.
The Lawyer also revealed (7 August) that cutbacks during the last recession had caused chronic shortages among leading M&A teams. Freshfields was on the hunt for 20 corporate associates, while Berwin Leighton Paisner was seeking 40 across all practice areas.
The following week (14 August), Linklaters managing partner Tony Angel picked The Lawyer as his forum to reveal a new three-year strategy. Angel pinpointed China, India and Korea for growth and said that the US would remain "high on the agenda".
The Lawyer's 21 August issue sparked a frenzy in the national press when it was revealed that Andrew Nulty, senior partner of Warrington's Avalon Solicitors, was the UK's highest-earning solicitor in 2005-06, scooping a massive £13m. The pot was stirred further by our revelation that he was being investigated by the Law Society over his role in the controversial miners' compensation scheme litigation. Get the latest news and an irreverent commentary delivered to your desktop every Wednesday by subscribing to Lawyer News Weekly.