Abigail Townsend talks to senior partner at Lovell White Durrant Andrew Walker, whose retirement plans have been put on hold because of the firm’s merger with Boesebeck Droste.
Lovell White Durrant’s merger with German firm Boesebeck Droste is the second link-up with another firm that senior partner Andrew Walker has been involved in.
The first, 10 years ago, was when Walker’s firm Lovell White & King joined forces with Durrant Piesse to create Lovell White Durrant.
As managing partner he was at the centre of the talks. This time around, he left it to managing partner Lesley MacDonagh to work on the deal, giving advice when he was asked.
He says: “I was not in the team but obviously I was a sounding board and did get involved with various parts of the discussions.
“The team included the managing partner and it is obviously axiomatic that we work together. [MacDonagh] is fastidious about keeping me informed.”
Norton Rose’s senior partner David Lewis says of the two: “Walker makes a very good double act with Lesley MacDonagh. They complement each other particularly well in the way they relate to one another. Walker is pretty hands-on in terms of style. I think they both are.”
Lovells’ deal with Boesebeck Droste, Germany’s number seven firm, was announced last week. It is the third merger of a top-10 UK law firm with a German practice in as many weeks.
In September partners at Freshfields and Clifford Chance voted to merge with Deringer Tessin Herrmann & Sedemund and Punder Volhard Weber & Axster respectively.
But Walker is quick to dismiss suggestions that Lovells is simply joining in the rush to crack the German market.
He calls the actions of his competitors “completely irrelevant”, adding: “We sense what other firms are doing but we are not directed by the competition.
“What directs us is what our clients want and they are saying we need to be in Germany and [they are saying] ’service us in Europe’.”
But he concedes that, with so many firms eyeing the European market, Lovells needed to link up with a top German firm before its rivals got there.
“There is no point saying we are interested in Germany and we are going to do it in 2005 and hope there is a law firm left,” he says.
Walker is at pains to point out that the marriage of the two firms was just that, but adds: “We are twice the size of Boesebeck Droste and there is no way I can disguise that or pretend that is not the case.”
The merger marks the start of a major expansion into Europe for Lovells. Even before the dust has settled, the new cross-border firm is planning its next European move.
It is not, says Walker, the last merger the firm is going to be involved in.
“We are already in Brussels, Paris, Prague and Moscow, but decided we needed to increase our presence in Europe. Germany was an obvious first step.
“But we have no intention of stopping with Germany,” he says.
“We clearly now need to look at Italy and Spain and have had discussions with several firms in both those countries.”
But despite these ambitious expansion plans, Walker knows there are only so many mergers a firm can do in one year.
He says: ” My opposite number in Germany said he would hope to do two or three more mergers in the next 12 months, but I think that is a bit much.”
The 54-year-old will be senior partner in the newly-created 230-partner firm. The group will be know as Lovells from the beginning of January 2000 when the merger will be finalised.
Walker intended to retire next year to combine travel with his passion for opera. He and his wife decided many years ago not to have children, and this leaves them free to jet around the world to watch whichever production they fancy.
But the merger means he will have to put his retirement plans on hold. He explains: “One of the things we have agreed is that the current management teams will stay in place for two years and four months after the merger.”
The contracts of Walker, MacDonagh and international partner John Pheasant have, therefore, all been extended until the end of Lovells’ financial year in 2002.
But Walker is adamant that once his extended tenure is up, he is off. He says: “I always had the view I would retire at the age of 55, but I will go on to 2002.
“I think they will be sick of me by then.”
Lovell White Durrant