Pillsbury Winthrop courts Simmons in UK merger bid

Transatlantic talks with West Coast firm herald huge shake-up of international strategy for City leader

Simmons & Simmons has entered informal talks with Pillsbury Winthrop with a view to establishing a US merger.

In a series of meetings, Pillsbury management has met senior Simmons partners, including senior partner Janet Gaymer and managing partner David Dickinson, to discuss a merger with the San Francisco-based firm. This is the first concrete sign that Simmons has turned its sights towards the US.

A source at Pillsbury confirmed that Simmons is one of 10 firms on its hit list for a transatlantic merger, and that the UK firm is “very attractive”.

However, the management at the UK firm is thought to be keener to link up with a firm with a strong New York presence.

While the 2001 merger of Pillsbury Madison & Sutro and Winthrop Stimson Putnam & Roberts has given Pillsbury Winthrop strength on the East and West Coasts, Simmons may prefer a New York-based firm.

The UK firm has been rapidly filling up the gaps in its global map. In 2001, the firm opened offices in Tokyo and Düsseldorf, and in 2002 it opened in Frankfurt, merged in the Netherlands and extended its Italian presence by merging in Padua.

The firm has continued its expansion this year with new offices in Portugal and Qatar.

Pillsbury chair Mary Cranston has made no secret of the firm’s plans to provide a global platform, taking inspiration from firms such as Latham & Watkins.

Pillsbury has entered similar discussions in Germany and France as it tries to find the best Continental allies to provide a truly global platform.

It is hoped that the current investigations will discover firms with similar global strategies.

Although a Simmons spokesperson denied the existence of any talks, sources close to the firm confirmed that discussions have taken place.