Are snowballing mergers necessary?

For the third week running, The Lawyer's front page reveals major City merger talks. Even Clifford Chance and Ashursts have been talking.

Are all these mergers really necessary? Until only a decade or so ago, you could look around the City and find most of the same firms advising the same clients they had had since the industrial revolution in the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries.

Wilde Sapte, still waiting to hear if it will be absorbed into Arthur Andersen, is 213 years old and Frere Cholmeley Bischoff, which is considering letting Eversheds swallow it up, boasts that it was founded in 1750.

There is a new revolution now: a global, financial one. Internationalisation has already polarised the accountancy profession, propelling firms into merging round the world to create a tier of only six truly international players. The same pressures are now being applied to legal advisers.

US investment banks and multinationals raising money in what is rapidly becoming a global capital market want an internationally recognisable legal brand name on their prospectuses, just as they want a big six auditor to sign off their accounts.

These days there are only five UK firms that can truly claim to have that brand. Already this tiny premier league has pulled so far ahead that first division firms will have to do something very radical, very soon if they are ever to catch up. Hence Ashurst's talks with Clifford Chance and Wilde Sapte's and Simmons & Simmons' with Andersens.

And even in the second division the Frere Cholmeley and Forsyste Saunders Kerman level the market advising big domestic players is uncomfortably crowded, especially in the field of corporate advice.

For Frere Cholmeley and Forsyte Saunders their early Nineties mergers were obviously not radical enough.