City firms in European offensive

UK firms are pushing to conquer the European market this week with a string of new offices, mergers and partner hires.

While Herbert Smith is opening an office in Moscow, SJ Berwin is poised to merge with a French firm and Simmons & Simmons is about to establish a presence in Spain.

In other moves, Eversheds has significantly bolstered its Paris office, while Linklaters & Alliance is actively seeking a merger partner in Spain.

The feverish activity has sent fresh shivers through the European legal community, which is increasingly fearful of domination by UK firms.

Herbert Smith's arrival in Moscow is the first by a US or UK firm since US firm Debevoise & Plimpton opened there last March, signalling renewed confidence in Eastern Europe after last year's economic meltdown.

Herbert Smith says it is opening an office in Moscow to capitalise on dispute resolution work in the oil and gas industry there.

“We have been doing quite a lot of work in natural resources,” says Herbert Smith head of business development Barry Jackson. “It is a client-led decision.”

The firm is understood to be looking for a local partner to aid its arrival, because it does not have any current associations with Moscow firms.

Meanwhile, SJ Berwin confirms it hopes to announce a merger with a Parisian firm in the next couple of months.

Senior partner David Harrell tells The Lawyer that talks with the unnamed firm are at an advanced stage. He says his firm is looking to merge with medium-sized firms of between 20 and 30 partners.

The firm is also in informal merger talks with Spanish and Italian firms.

Last year, SJ Berwin made a pre-merger arrangement with Knopf Tullock & Partners after it was approached by the German firm.

Harrell says the German move has been successful and he hopes to emulate the success with the Paris firm.

“We would love to have merged in Germany by now, but because it is part of a multidisciplinary practice, the Law Society has to change its rules to allow us to merge. But we are expecting to be able to merge within a year.”

In Spain, Simmons & Simmons is testing the waters in Madrid with a project office in the city.

Robert Hodges, director of marketing at Simmons says that the office was opened to support a large piece of work it is undertaking in the area.

Linklaters & Alliance partner Miles Curley has been chosen to head up the Madrid office, as his firm hunts for a merger partner.

Eversheds has this week taken on a new partner, a consultant and two other lawyers, taking its Paris office to five partners and 14 other lawyers.

A former partner at Barthelemy & Associes – France's leading labour law firm – Antoine Vivant, is to become a partner at Eversheds.