Orrick tops the list of suitors for tie-up with SJ Berwin

City firm thought to be ’too hot to handle’ for many other potential US candidates

Jonathan Blake
Jonathan Blake

Orrick Herrington & ­Sutcliffe has emerged as the frontrunner in the race to secure a merger with SJ Berwin.

The London firm’s ­strategy committee, which includes senior partner Jonathan Blake, managing partner Ralph Cohen and corporate partner Rob Day, has spent the past six months exploring merger possibilities with several firms, including Goodwin Procter and Proskauer Rose.

Now it has emerged that a delegation from SJ Berwin met with Orrick in New York on Tuesday 13 April to continue the merger negotiations on US soil.

Although the meeting would appear to place Orrick in the driving seat in terms of securing a deal with SJ Berwin, numerous sources suggest it is still far from certain that a merger will ultimately go ahead.

“This is still not at the stage of an imminent announcement being made,” said one source familiar with the situation. “They’ve had two or three meetings, but ­nothing’s ­certain yet.”

However, both Goodwin and Proskauer are now understood to have decided against a merger with the UK firm.

As one London-based recruitment consultant put it: “There’s a sense that SJ Berwin is too hot to handle for some US firms. Their drop in PEP [profit per equity partner] last year was so precipitous, people don’t know if it’s really hit the ­bottom, or how quickly it’s likely to come back.”

Orrick is thought to still be interested in SJ Berwin primarily because of the US firm’s longstanding desire to ramp up significantly in the City.

Last year the firm moved into new offices, but a series of departures and relocations have left it looking underweight in certain areas, notably corporate.

Earlier this month Mishcon de Reya ­strengthened its corporate team when it hired Orrick partner Dean Poster, ­Coudert Brothers’ former ­London managing partner.

Poster’s exit followed those of fellow corporate partners Richard Eaton and Struan Penwarden, who this month announced that they were leaving Orrick for Bird & Bird.
London-based Orrick finance partner Alexander Janes, who is understood to have been among those who attended the New York meeting this month, did not deny the meeting took place when contacted by The Lawyer, but refused to comment on what was discussed.

SJ Berwin refused to comment.