Stibbe splits from Paris office after Latham talks

Paris pushed before it can jump; Latham & Watkins interested in only French, German and UK offices

European law firm Stibbe is splitting following talks between the firm’s Paris office and US law firm Latham & Watkins.

Partners in Amsterdam, Brussels, London and New York claim they are causing the split because of a disagreement over the speed of integration.

But managing partner of the Paris office Olivier Delattre confirms that his office is in merger talks with Latham.

He says: “We’ve concluded that Stibbe doesn’t want to become international, so we’ve started discussions of our own.

“We wanted to include the Brussels and Amsterdam offices, but Latham is only interested in Germany, France and the UK.

“The other offices were scared that the story would leak, so they’ve made the first move. It’s not very professional, but we’ll keep a good working relationship with them.”

Paris firm Monahan Duhot merged with Dutch-Belgian practice Stibbe Simont in 1993 to form Stibbe Simont Monahan Duhot (now known as Stibbe).

At the time, the firm stated its intentions to merge with a German firm and an Anglo-Saxon firm, but 10 years on it has still not transpired.

Last October Stibbe called off all foreign merger talks following a breakdown in discussions with Lovells.

“Over the past few years, the Paris market’s changed. Before, we were able to compete with the global firms in France, but that’s changing, and some of our clients, especially investment banks, are going to UK and US firms for more international work,” says Delattre.

Stibbe has lost a number of partners over the last year: finance partner Olivier Edwards and capital markets partner Jean-Marc Franceschi left for Jones Day Reavis & Pogue, capital markets partner Richard Vilanova left for Sullivan & Cromwell, and most recently competition partner Dominique Berlin has joined Willkie Farr & Gallagher.

Delattre says the departures were due to the firm’s slow international expansion.

Latham is one of the most successful West Coast US firms. In London it acts for all the major investment banks and specialises in high-yield work. It has been aggressively following a European expansion programme since last May’s failed talks with Ashurst Morris Crisp.

In Germany it has merged with the Hamburg office of disintegrating law firm Gaedertz, while in London it has recruited Weil Gotshal & Manges‘ former head of banking James Chesterman and the former European general counsel at GE Capital Kevin Dunn.

Latham’s London managing partner Joe Blum refuses to comment on the merger. However, he does say that the firm is planning to expand in Europe and that it is looking at Paris.

Stibbe’s Amsterdam office was unavailable for comment.