Onwards and upwards

Herbies says merger is a boost for litigation, contrary to market murmurings

Herbert Smith’s announcements that it was to merge with Australia’s Freehills and launch a litigation base in New York came in quick succession.

One theory among market-watchers was that these two events represented a compromise: Herbies’ litigators would vote in favour of the merger, despite the deal holding little attraction for them and potentially diluting the partnership, and the corporate partners would approve the New York office even though it could hurt the number of referrals they got from New York firms.

But Herbert Smith Freehills’ joint litigation heads Damian Grave and Sonia Leydecker claim nothing could be further from the truth. According to the pair, there were more than enough synergies to sell the merger, in particular in international arbitration, financial services, regulatory and contentious construction.

Freehills also brings tasty institutional clients to the table, including BHP Billiton, National Australia Bank, ANZ Bank and Commonwealth Bank of Australia.

Following the merger and New York launch, as well as the planned offices in Guinea and Seoul, Leydecker says the only obvious gaps are in Germany and South America. The firm has not yet revealed how it will proceed in Germany, but it is clear it will move soon, most likely starting with an office in Frankfurt. South America is tougher because of regulatory difficulties, but given the momentum Herbies has right now, it still looks possible. Who could have predicted that a year ago?