Dutch-UK ties go through mangle as Air France-KLM deal takes off

De Brauw double loser as Linklaters taps Nauta Dutilh; Allen & Overy secures KLM as client

The high-profile link-up between Air France and KLM has unearthed a merry-go-round of failed relationships and new friendships between UK and Dutch law firms as the two airlines last week unveiled details of their proposed merger.

The Netherlands’ Nauta Dutilh, the best friend of Slaughter and May, has landed its first ever instruction from the majority French state-owned Air France through a referral, courtesy of Linklaters.

The UK magic circle firm is providing French and US legal advice to Air France with a team led by Paris-based corporate partner Patrick Laporte.

Nauta corporate partners Erik Hammerstein and Lieke van der Velden are handling the Dutch aspects of the deal for Air France, including the merged airline’s primary listing on Euronext Paris. It will also list on Euronext Amsterdam and the New York Stock Exchange.

Linklaters still has a referral relationship with one-time merger partner De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek.

Although it is highly probable that De Brauw would have lost out on the huge swathe of work because of its troubled relationship with KLM, it is not clear just how strong the referral ties between the Dutch firm and Linklaters remain following the breakdown of merger talks two years ago.

One source close to the deal said: “De Brauw would have been conflicted out. Therefore it wasn’t a logical choice for Linklaters.”

The Lawyer first revealed back in May that KLM had appointed Allen & Overy (A&O) as its new lead adviser following a review of its external lawyers, prompted by its dramatic fallout with De Brauw.

The lengthy panel reshuffle began after a Dutch arbitration tribunal ruled in December 2002 that KLM would have to pay e150m (£104.8m) to Alitalia for tearing up their alliance in April of that year (The Lawyer, 19 May).

A&O’s head of corporate in Amsterdam Jan Louis Burggraaf is leading the team advising KLM, together with UK corporate partner Tim Stevens.

Commenting on the merger, which still has a number of regulatory hurdles to overcome, Burggraaf told The Lawyer: “It’s arguably one of the most difficult and complicated transactions occurring in the Netherlands over the last few years.”