The Leader Column

Accidents will happen. One day the Clifford Chance reception is mysteriously croded with tall, tanned and toothy blokes in button-downs. The next day, the mass lateral hire out of Brobeck – revealed last week by The Lawyer – is off, just when the Metropole hotel was readying itself for an influx of CC partners ready to vote. Yet amid all the brouhaha last week about CC's bold West Coast bid, there has been another transatlantic story that I feel strangely compelled to share with you.
The rumour doing the rounds at the moment links Freshfields and US firm Debevoise & Plimpton. We've been here before: back in December 2000, The Lawyer revealed that Freshfields and Debevoise were in talks about allying for securities work. It was a localised model that Ashursts has recently been trying with Fried Frank on structured finance. But with the capital markets drying up soon after, the fledgling discussions between Freshfields and Debevoise came to nothing.
Carpe diem, chaps; now is the time for Freshfields to woo Debevoise again. There is certainly a sense of renewed urgency on Freshfields' part and a feeling among some sections of the partnership that a US deal has to be done this year. After all, it may trumpet its latest antitrust hires in Washington DC, but that's nothing compared with CC's audacity in the US, first with Rogers & Wells and second with the Brobeck litigators. (By the way, is there any truth in the rumour that the West Coast deal would have enabled CC to drop the pesky Rogers & Wells part of the name in the US? Surely not.)
The caution on Freshfields' side mostly revolves around the Davis Polk factor, given that Simpson Thacher has consistently ruled itself out of the game. Orthodoxy has it that Freshfields and Davis Polk are made for each other, were it not for the unfortunate tie-up between Davis Polk and Hengeler Mueller, which conflicts out Freshfields' entire German operation.
The major stumbling block to pulling off a deal with Debevoise is that the internal sell to the London corporate partners, who will bellyache that Debevoise does not have the same profile in public M&A to match the Anglo-German practice – though it has a private equity practice to die for. But everything else stacks up. Realistically, Debevoise will be the preferred option.
So. Freshfields and Debevoise? It really could happen this year. You read it here first.