The Leader Column

There is a distinct whiff of myth-making drifting from City Point at the moment. Simmons & Simmons' merger bid for Watson Farley & Williams – revealed exclusively on last Tuesday – is currently being touted as the birth of a finance giant.
Hardly. The fact is, banking and capital markets account for only 10 per cent of Simmons' turnover, while Watson Farley's capability is in asset finance. There is only marginal crossover between them. The merged businesses may trouble the likes of Denton Wilde Sapte (DWS), but not Allen & Overy or Clifford Chance. Indeed, any Simmons-Watson Farley link-up would echo the Dentons-Wilde Sapte conundrum post-merger. That deal added breadth but not depth, with the result that DWS's market share has never made the leap that it needed. The Simmons deal looks like doing the same.
Still, the US securities partner that Simmons took on in January no longer seems a rather wan piece of tokenism, but instead appears symptomatic of something different. It seems that Simmons managing partner David Dickinson itches to build the finance practice more than anything. But asset finance is hardly a penetration product – it is certainly not going to get the firm into big-ticket banking or acquisition finance work.
In any case, this is not yet a done deal; it still has to be sold to the partners. In fact, there is some bemusement internally at Simmons as to why on earth the prospect is being discussed at all. Perhaps Dickinson – a banking and capital markets lawyer by trade – has forgotten that it is the corporate practice that is actually the engine room of the firm. After some years in the doldrums, Simmons now has a number of young and ambitious corporate partners who are starting to make a name for themselves. A Watson Farley deal would do nothing for them. If anything, Watson Farley's departing Paris team, led by David Syed, would have segued nicely with Simmons in London.
As an aside, you cannot help but suspect that Watson Farley is trying to steal Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe's thunder. Hopping mad at the Paris office's imminent defection to Orrick, it looks like Christopher Preston and Michael Greville went off the idea of a US merger pretty sharpish.
Unfortunately, there is no space to write about that other super-duper law firm deal – Stephenson Harwood and Sinclair Roche & Temperley. One can only wonder whether the world really needs yet another defensive merger. Good luck to them; they'll need it.