Wind and Smoke

When it comes to law firm dating, a GSOH is most definitely required.

The news, revealed by The Lawyer last week (21 May), that SJ Berwin and Mayer Brown are in preliminary talks will have brought a smile to the faces of both firms’ many former partners. Uncharitable souls will mutter that Mayer Brown made a cultural hash of its merger with Rowe & Maw, while SJ Berwin is now permanently in play to the highest bidder.

On a practice level it doesn’t look a bad deal. Mayer Brown’s UK corporate client base, a residue of the former incarnation of Rowe & Maw, is solid, while SJ Berwin brings some great financial and real estate clients. But few mergers live up to their paper promises, or Denton Wilde Sapte might still be with us.

If the Mayer Brown talks reach a conclusion (which is a big if, given their embryonic stage) integration presents a much bigger headache for SJ Berwin than a Proskauer deal would have done. SJ Berwin turns over £179m and Mayer Brown £169m in London alone. One of the reasons that Hogan Lovells has progressed without too many tantrums is that the management barely had to integrate the offices; geographically there was little overlap. What’s more, while Squire Sanders and Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal (SNR) got a grip on Hammonds and Denton Wilde Sapte respectively, the faltering positions of their UK merger partners made it easy for them.

However, the task for SJ Berwin and the London Mayer Brown management is on a different scale. The relationship between London and Chicago at Mayer Brown has never been easy, even with Paul Maher out of the mix for a couple of years.

One source close to Mayer Brown told The Lawyer last week: “There’s paranoia that the UK arm would find out [about the negotiations with
SJ Berwin]. That would lead to serious defections in the UK.”

What does that tell you about the way the London office is viewed in the Windy City? Keeping London out of the loop looks to have become second nature to Mayer Brown.

Whether that bodes well for SJ Berwin partners, I leave you to judge.