Irreconcilable differences

Deep-seated disparities caused FFW-Osborne Clarke merger talks to fail

Simon Beswick
Beswick: different approach

Field Fisher Waterhouse (FFW) and Osborne Clarke have similarities and differences. The former is still more politically heated and divided than gentlemanly Osborne Clarke, despite FFW’s efforts in recent years, but their clientele would have complemented each other well, especially in corporate.

News of the collapse of merger talks was thus met with both shock and a sense of inevitability. On paper the deal was a goer on the basis of clients and numbers, but it was hard to imagine a fractured partnership combining with a calm and sober one.

On announcing the end of negotiations the firms cited “differences between the two firms’ operating models”. Osborne Clarke managing partner Simon Beswick said the pair had a “fairly similar vision of where we want to be”, but noted there were “some differences in our approaches”. Michael Chissick, acting managing partner at FFW, talked of a “number of essential differences, including those between both firms’ international structures”.

Chissick’s last point does not refer to the firms’ dedication to their non-UK businesses. Both

are well-covered in Germany. Osborne Clarke has Spanish and Italian offices, while FFW boasts Brussels and Paris, but Osborne Clarke is planning to open in both of these locations soon. And both are now in Silicon Valley.

In truth, the “differences” are things you do not see from the outside but are clear as day to a management board. Osborne Clarke has two partnerships, one for the UK and another for Germany, and a Swiss Verein on top, while FFW is a single partnership. Also, FFW sources highlight difficulties bedding in the Munich and Düsseldorf team that joined from Howrey in 2011. They are understood to have been expensive hires and were only brought in due to the drive of a certain London partner known for his influence on management.

Of the four who joined, two – Germany head Joachim Feldges and fellow patent partner Jochen Herr – have left recently, joining Allen & Overy and Baker & McKenzie respectively.

FFW may have a single partnership, but it has its share of cross-Channel intrigue.