Heller launches in London despite merger failure

West Coast US firm Heller Ehrman is set to launch an office in London with three of its own partners, after failing to secure a UK merger.

Heller talked to a number of small £10m-turnover firms, but did not find a fit for the practice areas and client sectors that it wanted to push in London.

The firm’s chairman Matt Larrabee confirmed: “Like most large US firms, we had various conversations with UK firms.”

The office will focus on the corporate, real estate and antitrust practice areas and will try to build up a name for technology and life sciences work through its Venture Law Group brand.

Heller is looking to support its hospitality clients such as Starwood and Four Seasons, its technology clients, which include Microsoft, in Europe, as well as trying to win new clients.

International development partner Ted Hennebury will be joined by real estate and private equity partner Brian Smith and corporate finance specialist Stephen Ferruolo. Hennebury concentrates on antitrust and competition matters. The search for a London base has taken more than 12 months. Part of the difficulty that Heller encountered was finding good office space. Larrabee said the firm looked at more than 40 different spaces.

The firm has yet to finalise a lease agreement in London, but is in the closing stages.

When it opens, Heller will compete alongside West Coast rivals Morrison & Foerster, O’Melveny & Myers, Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, which have already launched in London.

Larrabee said: “If you think about having a market position, defending it requires you to become international. You can’t do that by ignoring Europe.”