At first glance, Titmuss Sainer Dechert‘s senior partner Steven Fogel appears to be the antithesis of the stereotypical lawyer. As opposed to having rafts of law books and journals piled high on an ostentatious mahogany desk, Fogel’s office is brightly lit and crammed full of pictures of his family. Placed on a conference table are a number of objects including some shells and pebbles, just because Fogel likes them.
He shyly asks not to be interviewed in the presence of a tape recorder and recounts a time when he took part in meeting in front of a video camera, which, from the expression on his face, left him scarred for life.
But this “sensitive new man” image feels a touch contrived since this is a lawyer who has just steered Titmuss Sainer through the world’s second US/UK merger, joining up with longtime alliance partner Dechert Price & Rhoads. A lawyer who manages to pull off a feat that only Clifford Chance has managed to do with Rogers & Wells, cannot be a wilting wallflower.
From 1 July the new firm will be known simply as Dechert and will house a total of 780 fee-earners. It is a triumph for the medium-sized practice.
The fact that Titmuss Sainer and Dechert Price formed an alliance in 1994 and took the time to get to know each other obviously ironed out those “cultural problems” that are supposedly the problem behind other firms’ recent disasters.
Fogel pooh-poohs the idea that what the firms did was in anyway ground-breaking. “I wouldn’t claim that we were outstandingly forward thinking, it would be arrogant and it would be ignorant since I don’t know what other firms were thinking at the time.”
Fogel is also pragmatic about why other UK/US mergers have not come to fruition. He says: “I think that transatlantic mergers are incredibly complicated. The thing about the way that we have done this, to some extent, provides a situation to see if the people you are negotiating with are truly your friends. When people come to know each other they are able to sort their problems out.”
Making sure that the firm’s lawyers are happy is one of Fogel’s main priorities – and it is a maxim he also applies to his clients, which include Sears and IT retail giant Dixons.
Instead of attending the partnership vote on 24 June in the US he attended the funeral of a former property director at Sears. He says: “He was very kind to me when I was starting out.”
Although Fogel is well known for his property work, including advising Nike on the lease of the huge store on Oxford Street that opened in July 1999, he very nearly became a company lawyer instead.
Drawing on the experience of his family, who set up DIY giant Texas Homestores, he joined Titmuss Sainer in 1974 with the sole intention of specialising in company law. He says: “[My family] was a client of the firm. Also, law seemed like a good idea. I got seduced by it and I enjoyed the camaraderie of the people here.
“I wanted to be a company lawyer and did an MA in the subject but at the time there were no places in the company law department.”
Fogel admits that he thought of joining another firm to pursue his intentions but, thanks to the encouragement of the lawyers within the firm, he began to enjoy working in the area that he originally had an aversion to. “I definitely made the right decision,” he says. “Conveyancing then was a bit of a backwater and there was scope to be commercial in approach.”
Just four years after qualifying in 1976, Fogel became a partner.
He plays down the speed at which he rose through the firm, saying: “Partnership back then was faster.” Promotion was assured earlier, due to the recession in the 1970s and the need for firms to hang onto lawyers.
Since that point, Fogel has become involved in a number of extraneous activities, including a spell as legal adviser to the British Retail Consortium in the 1990s. Indeed, one property lawyer is disdainful of Fogel’s outside interests. He says: “He doesn’t really do many of the deals. He is much more interested in activities outside of the business.”
After becoming head of the property department in 1990 and then senior partner in 1998, he admits that he now acts more as a consultant and as the relationship partner to his clients.
Most recently, his time has been taken up negotiating the merger with his US counterparts and admits that the task of bringing the two firms together is only just beginning.
Fogel says: “I think the main challenge is integrating the firms, while all the time never losing sight of the client and making sure that people are compatible.”
But will Fogel himself, a lawyer who seems so quintessentially English and at pains to project an image of a couscous eating bike riding eccentric, fit into the culture of a US firm?
It would appear so, as every time he is asked a question about the intricacies of the merger he makes an analogy out of that great US institution, Coca Cola.
“We do have a complicated system in place involving partner remuneration and so on – it is like the magic formula that makes the Coke,” he says with a straight face.
But only time will tell whether the merger turns out to be the real thing.
Titmuss Sainer (now Dechert)