So Ralph Baxter has taken another step in his quest for world domination, or, more importantly, dominance over Nigel Knowles.

Yesterday the chairman of Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe joyously confirmed to The Lawyer that his firm is in preliminary merger discussions with New York’s Dewey Ballantine in a move that could create a new legal superpower and top-15 US firm.

While both Baxter and Dewey chairman Mort Pierce were coy about how the affair began, they were complimentary about their respective partners. Baxter noted Dewey’s “strength”, while Pierce said he was “intrigued”.

And it’s no wonder given that if the courtship comes to fruition, the combined firm would have more than 1,200 lawyers and come close to $1bn (£530m) in revenue.

That’s just shy of DLA Piper’s 1,303 lawyers in its US operations, but doesn’t compare when DLA’s 1,573 lawyers in Europe are also taken into account.

Never mind. There was other good news for Baxter in his battle with Knowles.

His San Francisco-based firm has finally received the nod from the Chinese Ministry of Justice (MoJ) for the transition of the licences for the defunct Coudert Brothers’ Beijing and Shanghai offices. Orrick now only needs to tie up a few administrative loose ends in order to complete the deal. (see story)

A big thanks must go to elite China firm King & Wood, which managed to smooth the feathers ruffled by Orrick’s misguided stunt to draft in the political weight of the Terminator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, reported by The Lawyer earlier this year.

But, in Baxter’s haste to enter mainland China, he might encounter problems. One insider reveals jitters that by describing Orrick’s agreement with Coudert as a “merger” on its licence documentation, it may possibly have left itself accountable for Coudert’s own ongoing financial liabilities in China.

That could be quite substantial given that the Beijing and Shanghai offices cost $1.8m (£960,000) just in operating expenses last financial year – not to mention the ongoing wrongful dismissal lawsuit against Coudert Beijing.

Let’s hope that this doesn’t spoil Orrick’s day, or Dewey’s for that matter.

Gemma Westacott, Features editor
The Lawyer