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US firm plans European assault as merger target drifts towards Mayer Brown
A White & Case contingent is pushing to reignite merger talks with Rowe & Maw in a last-ditch attempt to stop it linking with rival Mayer Brown & Platt. White & Case had initial discussions with Rowe & Maw in the spring of this year, but decided not to pursue a merger at the time. But now that Rowe & Maw is poised to merge with Chicago's Mayer Brown, The Lawyer understands that some White & Case partners are keen to launch a counter bid. Rowe & Maw is seeking a US merger that will boost both its London finance practice and its European presence. Both firms can offer this, although White & Case has the larger European practice. The talks with Mayer Brown are more advanced than they were with White & Case - White & Case withdrew from talks after only initial information had been disclosed. The Mayer Brown talks are already at the stage where practice heads are meeting and sources say a deal could be done by the end of the year. One partner at Rowe & Maw said renewing talks with White & Case was still not completely ruled out. However, White & Case London managing partner John Bellhouse said: "There were talks which terminated. That remains the position and there have been no internal or external discussions about reactivating them." The firm is known to be keen to bulk up its corporate practice in London, where it currently has an essentially finance-based practice, and Rowe & Maw could offer that. White & Case's worldwide managing partner Duane Wall is coming to Europe for a month to deal with management issues and integration. He arrives today (8 October). He said: "We're in the midst of some pretty serious strategic discussions on how we approach not only London but parts of Continental Europe and the US. I would expect those discussions would yield something by the end of November." The firm has expanded throughout Europe with its mergers in Germany and Italy. The firm merged with German 40-partner practice Feddersens last summer and Italian firm Varrenti e Associati in January. After a partners meeting in Belgium last month, it was decided that the firm should spend time bedding down its expanded presence here. Duane Wall said that his job was to focus on Europe. The plan is to set up a European management board. He said: "At Bruges we spent a lot of time discussing how we are going to organise ourselves more effectively into client-relationship teams on a pan-European basis, so that we focus on developing product groups and client relationships. "We did decide to talk about changing our governance structure slightly to have a European management board. The concept of that board is a part of the process of moving management closer to the client base." Both Rowe & Maw and Mayer Brown declined to comment.