Hammonds partners have been given until Wednesday (22 January) to vote on a merger with the highly-regarded Madrid practice of Slaughter and May's Dutch best friend Nauta Dutilh

As revealed on www. thelawyer.com/lawyernews on Friday, the merger would provide Hammonds with its first Spanish office as it builds up its European network in the hope of attracting the attention of US firms.

If Hammonds' partners approve the merger, which is already agreed by the executives of both firms, Nauta's Madrid office will become part of the UK firm's European network this May.

The Lawyer has seen documents proving that Hammonds is actively searching for a US merger partner, and the firm has placed Birmingham head of corporate David Hull in charge of its US initiative.

However, Hammonds international head David Armitage denied this, saying that Hammonds' European strategy is only geared to attracting referral work from US firms. “Our European development is largely for a US audience,” he said, “but while we want referral work from US firms we aren't intending to open up in North America.”

Nauta's Madrid office, which has 18 lawyers, including two partners, and last year turned over around £2.5m, has been on the market since last summer, when the top-tier Dutch firm decided to concentrate its efforts on Benelux, London and New York.

Nauta's Spanish partners are understood to have approached a number of international firms with Madrid offices, such as Ashurst Morris Crisp, before engineering this tie-up with Hammonds.

One senior Spanish partner said: “The practice is very well regarded, particularly in corporate, and has been linked to a few international firms recently.”

Nauta closed its Paris practice and relocated its one Paris-based partner, Dutch lawyer Sierk Bruna, to the Netherlands last October (The Lawyer, 14 October 2002) at the same time as deciding to spin off Madrid.