In May The Lawyer launched the Transatlantic Elite – an analysis of the top end of the legal market. The only UK firms to make it in to our inaugural Sweet Sixteen were the four members of the magic circle and Slaughter and May.
It’s fair to say that we didn’t consider Hammonds for inclusion. But if the fantasies of former managing partner Chris Jones had played themselves out as he imagined, then Hammonds may well have found a place among the elite.
When Hammonds Suddards merged with Edge Ellison in 2000, Jones talked seriously to The Lawyer about battling toe-to-toe with Macfarlanes. “We want the reputation that Macfarlanes has got – the ability to do high-quality, sensitive jobs,” he said.
Needless to say, Jones’s dreams never turned into reality. Hammonds has 20 fewer partners in London today than it did back in 2000. And no one would call Hammonds elite (or Sweet).
But despite its travails, Hammonds still has a business worth salvaging – although current managing partner Peter Crossley will probably tell you that’s exactly what he’s been doing these past three years.
Inside and outside the elite there is a growing recognition of the benefits a transatlantic merger could bring. Where previously there was only scepticism, now a growing band of firms ranging from Allen & Overy to Watson Farley & Williams have considered the merits of a transformative deal.
The Lawyer editorial team has been doing its own bit of fantasising these past few weeks as we put together The Lawyer UK 200 – our annual report on the state of the finances at the UK’s leading firms.
The twin forces of globalisation and the Legal Services Act are just two reasons why the legal market is ripe for consolidation. So we have taken the opportunity to look beyond the figures and gaze into our crystal ball at the future shape of the UK legal market.
In our fantasy world, Hammonds is not a Macfarlanes. In fact, it is not even Hammonds. Hammonds is part of a US firm that has ditched a brand that has become so tarnished in the UK. Which firm is it? You’ll have to grab our 1 September edition and The Lawyer UK 200 Annual Report 2008 to find out.