Brief encounter: Hausmann & associÉs

Last month, French firm Hausmann & Associés announced that it was merging with UK national firm Hammond Suddards Edge. Senior partner Christian Hausmann has finally found a firm that fits.

Hausmanns was set up on 1 July 1995 and its name partner has been instrumental in establishing its reputation.

Hausmann, who is German, has a broad experience of the legal market. He was an associate in the Paris office of US firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton and more recently in French firm Thomas & Associés. He was also an in-house lawyer for Michelin in New York between 1983 and 1985.

The firm began as a niche private equity practice but has developed to include employment, commercial and corporate law. It is also handling more commercial litigation and international arbitration.

For a small firm, Hausmanns handles an huge amount of international work. Fifty per cent of its contracts are in English and with five partners and 10 associates it can offer advice in six languages: English, French, German, Italian, Russian and Spanish.

Although Hausmanns' client base tends to be industrial, it also advises a number of financial institutions on venture capital work. The UK and US are the firm's primary source of clients and much of its international work consists of drafting contracts. It also handles some preliminary work for acquisitions but appoints local lawyers once the acquisition starts to progress.

Mergers between French firms frequently cause problems as niche firms tend to be solo operations and two partners vying for supremacy is a recipe for disaster.

A merger with a UK firm is often more simple and as long as Hammonds does not interfere with the day-to-day running of Hausmanns, the acquisition looks set for success.

Hammonds has a strong presence in the Midlands and a strong industrial client base. It also operates in a number of different markets. Hausmanns will benefit from an increase in private equity work as a result.

Of course, there will be work referred from the UK that Hausmanns cannot handle and the development of tax, construction, property and European law capabilities will be high on the firm's agenda.

An international presence will add weight to the firm's agenda, but too strong a presence could marginalise its future European development.

Hammonds has only one other European presence – a small office in Brussels which specialises in EU law. A number of partners are leaving German firm Knauthe Paul Schmitt to set up offices for Hammonds in Berlin and Munich, but Hausmann has been involved in the negotiations and he must expect this to have set a precedent for the future.

The outcome remains to be seen. Can a small French firm escape being engulfed by its larger UK counterpart in a market where UK firms are renowned for their aggressive culture? For the time being Hausmann is not expecting any radical changes. But perhaps a Hammonds partner relocating to France might be tolerated – a few years down the line, that is.