Lathams drops UK merger plans for poaching spree

Latham & Watkins has abandoned its UK merger strategy in favour of cherrypicking top European lawyers.

The change of plans follows its failed bid to merge with Ashurst Morris Crisp.

Two of the Los Angeles firm's top partners, Bill Voge and Bob Dell, have been in London for a two-day meeting with Ashursts' partners and associates after the office opposed the merger.

Lathams has decided against merging with any London firm, even if a suitable partner came along.

Voge, an executive committee member based in New York, says: “A lot of people say to me if an ideal firm turned up would you tell them to go away, and I think now the answer is probably yes.”

Instead the firm is to build up London organically. There are plans to send over at least three top partners and five other lawyers from the US. It was also decided to set up offices in Germany, France, Spain and Italy.

Voge and Dell will finalise management approval for the plan from the rest of the executive board in the US.

Voge admits the London office had more concerns than the rest of the firm about merging with Ashursts, but says the talks failed when the firms discussed the organisation of the new structure.

Now Lathams will continue talks with lateral hire partners in London and mainland Europe and smaller firms on the Continent,which were put on hold during the merger talks.

He says: “This is plan B, Ashursts was plan A. We are confident our current client base is urging us to develop a European practice – that being our investment banking clients, top corporate clients and our banking clients.”