Resurgent Camerons prepares to go further under CMS banner

One CAN understand why CMS Cameron McKenna might be suffering from an identity crisis at the moment.

CMS banner” />One can understand why CMS Cameron McKenna might be suffering from an identity crisis at the moment.

The symptoms? A leadership election looming, plus a vote in the new year with the other eight CMS network firms on whether or not to converge.

If the vote is successful Camerons as we know it will be no more. If certain European elements can be persuaded, firms will drop their names in favour of the concise ‘CMS’. As a branding exercise it is hard to argue against.

But CMS will stop short of financial integration, favouring a model pioneered by accounting giant Deloitte, which perhaps not by coincidence is advising CMS on potential implementation.

“I think it will give Camerons direction,” says a managing partner at a rival firm. “It’s suffered from a lack of visibility. But integration means integration: you need people in different parts of the world with a common purpose – namely profit.”

CMS’s plan might seem a cop-out, but a model that includes financial independence gives flexibility to other markets such as India, according to Camerons senior partner Richard Price, who is preparing to go to India later this month with a party from Germany’s CMS Hasche Sigle.

Although there have been no formal talks within CMS about plans on the subcontinent, doors will be knocked upon and the alliance will be explained to India’s key firms.

“Indian firms, which tend to be family-dominated, might be wary of Western firms opening in India,” says Price. But with an integrated CMS, Indian firms could retain financial independence. “I see the benefit as offering both CMS and firms in India access to high-level capability in each other’s markets,” he explains.

No matter which way the vote falls, CMS is working ever closer. Last year cross-referrals increased by 60 per cent for the second year running.

The alliance has cottoned on to the fact that offering coverage in 26 countries can be a selling point on pitches. The revelation came when Linde instigated a panel review at the beginning of the year following its takeover of BOC. Camerons found itself in the final two in Linde’s sights as the go-to adviser for day-to-day issues. Camerons eventually lost out to DLA Piper, not just on cost, but because the latter could offer better global coverage.

Camerons will make landing more Europe-wide panels a focus. It has formulated business plans for 15-20 corporates that it intends to target, only some of which are already clients.

How ironic that Camerons may cede its identity to the greater good of CMS when it is in as fine shape as it has been in years. The half-year figures showed a 21 per cent leap in fee income to £103m: this time last year it could only muster a 6 per cent rise.

Camerons has hired partners at an aggressive rate, not least for its new Ukraine office – the first in the country for UK-headquartered firms.

In 2006 Camerons managed just three partner hires, whereas it has made 10 in 2007. True, it also lost four senior lawyers from its prized Moscow office, two of whom headed to Clifford Chance. But the fact that the magic circle firm looked to Camerons is indicative of how highly regarded the firm’s Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) offering is.

A partner from a rival firm admits: “If we ever wanted to open in the CEE then I’d look to Camerons to hire.”

Last year the CEE contributed around £40m to Camerons’ £197m turnover. No surprise, then, to see CEE head Duncan Weston’s name among those who are putting themselves forward for managing partner.

Also on the ballot are property head Edward Benzecry, commercial head Nigel Moore and corporate partners Niall McAlister and Louise Wallace. All are popular, big names within the firm.

One partner says: “I think it’s a great sign there are so many good people stepping up. People are genuinely excited about Camerons’ next phase and the people willing to lead Camerons through its next phase.”

Elections will be speedy, with voting being completed by the end of November. Outgoing managing partner Dick Tyler is certainly stepping down at a fortuitous time. He is yet to make a decision on his next move and whether he will return to his corporate fee-earning in April.

Certainly, if CMS does integrate, its management might need a tweak. Currently it has an executive committee headed by chairman Pierre-Sébastien Thill and executive partner Robert Derry-Evans. Tyler is not commenting on whether he might head the way of Derry-Evans, who was Camerons’ senior partner before Price.

But if CMS is looking to forge a path, it might do worse than choose the man who helped forge one for Camerons.