Double standards

First it was on, then it was off, then it was on again: Mayer Brown and Simmons are doing a bit of a Burton-Taylor, but with a tad less flouncing.

So now we know that the two really are serious about each other, let’s have a look at the logic behind the talks.

As is increasingly clear, Asia is one of the motivating factors, just as it was with the Hogan-Lovells combination. As an aside, this may mean that Norton Rose has some breathing space when it comes to a transatlantic option, since its deal with Deacons gives it the resources in Australasia. But not too much breathing space: the fact that Hogan Lovells and the potential union of Simmons and Mayer Brown both top £1bn leaves Norton Rose’s projected turnover of £440m looking slightly underweight.

Mayer Brown’s deal with JSM three years ago has not quite transformed the firm’s fortunes in China, but the raw material is there. Simmons’ Asia practice has been too volatile to make any serious headway, so the attraction is obvious. And Simmons delivers Mayer Brown considerable heft in London. The two firms’ UK offices together turn over some £280m, but the most intriguing possibility is the ­combination of their finance businesses in London. That, surely, is where the serious potential lies;
but the integration of those two well-established ­practices will be fraught. Meanwhile, the big must-have for international firms is a proper global ­litigation capability that encompasses a proper investigations practice – again, the potential is clear given both firms’ track records in this area.

So much for the upside. Both firms have ­consistently underperformed financially and both have had Byzantine partner pay systems that have been endlessly and pointlessly reviewed. Mayer Brown’s cultural implacability as regards ­internationalism will have to be dissolved for good, but you’d have to be Pollyanna to see that happening.

Still, it puts the Proskauer-SJ Berwin talks into context, and not a positive one at that. Hogan Lovells’ David Harris and Simmons’ Mark Dawkins are hoping to carve out an entirely new class of ­global firm. And if this is the new transatlantic mid-market, Proskauer SJ Berwin ain’t in it. Maybe Jonathan Blake should pick up the phone to Nigel Knowles instead.