FFW and OC: near as dammit to a merger

 How close can you get without actually merging? Ask FFW and OC

There is no suggestion of corporate stalking here, but there are some eye-catching things going on between Field Fisher Waterhouse (FFW) and Osborne Clarke (OC).

First it was the launch in Palo Alto that got people wondering. FFW opened its representative office there last September, 12 years after its TMT rival did the same thing for the same reason.

Only a month earlier, FFW’s sector-group reshuffle streamlined its strategy from 11 industries to five, comprising energy and natural resources; financial institutions; hotel, retail and leisure; TMT; and life sciences and healthcare. The quintet it was left with so closely resembled OC’s quartet of digital business, financial services, real estate and infrastructure and energy and natural resources that decisions were already looking fishy.

Then, of course, it emerged FFW and OC were in merger talks, which ended partly over the difference between FFW’s single partnership structure and OC’s Swiss Verein under which the UK and Europe are separate profit pools.

FFW even briefly mulled a move to 10 Aldermanbury, round the corner from OC’s London base. In the end it plumped for Riverbank House near Berwin Leighton Paisner. But the OC-aping did not stop. This month it launched a tie-up with Shanghai’s Ryser & Associates using – you guessed it – a Swiss Verein, although FFW is still committed to its single European partnership.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but it might also be the next best thing to a merger.