Simmons and Mayer Brown merger talks: round two

Rush for transatlantic tie-ups continues as Simmons schedules partner briefing this week

Mark Dawkins
Mark Dawkins

Management at Mayer Brown and Simmons & Simmons are revisiting their merger talks just weeks after discussions broke down, with partners at both firms due to be briefed on a potential union later this week.

As exclusively revealed by (18 June), Simmons’ management emailed the partnership at the end of last week, confirming that ”preliminary discussions” had taken place, having previously refused to discuss the aborted talks with partners. The Mayer Brown talks have also been added to the agenda of a routine partner meeting to be held this Friday (25 June).

A merged firm would have a global turnover in excess of £1bn, with 2,400 lawyers working across offices in the US, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

The resumed talks come after high-level meetings were held between both management teams last week in a secret offsite location. This came after The Lawyer revealed (7 June) that the two firms had held initial talks that had encountered problems.

The news comes after US firm Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal and UK counterpart Denton Wilde Sapte recently voted to merge on 30 September 2010 to create a £500m business, while Hogan & Hartson and Lovells completed their transatlantic merger in May.

Tony Williams, principal at Jomati Consultants, said: “This is a continuation of a trend we’ve seen over the past nine months and it puts pressure on other firms to seriously look at their options.”

The motivation for Mayer Brown is a desire to expand its UK ­offering after its 2002 tie-up with Rowe & Maw failed to deliver expected growth. But a source close to Mayer Brown was surprised that the firm had approached Simmons.

“I find it extraordinary because Chicago seemed to be very worried about international expansion,” said the source. “They didn’t like the loss of control and this would mean total loss of control.”

Simmons managing partner Mark Dawkins is known to be attracted by the opportunity to grow in the US, where Chicago-­headquartered Mayer Brown has seven offices, together with the opportunity to broaden its coverage in East and South East Asia and in Germany.

The firm’s management has put greater coverage in China and Germany at the top of its international ­agenda. Having had earlier plans thwarted after its Chinese head Huen Wong left for Fried Frank in 2006, Simmons recently obtained a licence to open in Beijing and has hired partner Davis Wang from King & Wood to lead the office.

However, Simmons wanted to get good Chinese lawyers on board rather then sending people over from its other offices. Joining up with Mayer Brown, which has 50 lawyers in the Chinese capital, would help it reach this goal immediately.

While there is not a widespread geographical overlap between the two firms, with duplication of offices in six locations across Western Europe and China, the source added that any combination would almost certainly lead to a slew of departures.

Although there had been some unrest within Simmons’ partnership about not being informed of the initial merger discussions, sources indicated that there was a lack of consensus among partners over the necessary strategic direction the firm should take, meaning that management will likely have the final say on how it should proceed.
Mayer Brown and Simmons declined to comment.

Mayer Brown’s offices
Total: 22
Charlotte, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Palo Alto, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Washington DC
Bangkok, Beijing, Guangzhou, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City,
Hong Kong, Shanghai
Berlin, Brussels, Cologne, Frankfurt, London, Paris

Simmons’ offices
Total: 19
Amsterdam, Brussels, ­Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, ­Funchal, Lisbon, London, Madrid, Milan, Padua,
Paris, Rome, Rotterdam
Middle East
Abu Dhabi, Doha, Dubai
Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo