Desperately seeking fusion

There really must be something in the water. Just last week Denton Wilde Sapte chief executive Howard Morris, flush with the excitement of his firm’s impending merger with Chicago’s Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, predicted there would be a clamour of firms looking to follow their example.

Today we reveal that Mayer Brown, itself the ­product of a transatlantic tie-up, is on the hunt for another UK partner and has already tried to woo Simmons & Simmons.

Simmons, it seems, is not that easy to get, despite Mayer Brown having a significant presence in Thailand, Vietnam and – crucially for the UK firm – China (all via its 2008 merger with Hong Kong’s Johnson Stokes & Master (JSM)).

That Simmons is open to a deal is clear. Last week managing partner Mark Dawkins told The Lawyer: “We’ve got to be alive to the changes happening.” This week he corroborated: “We’re not blind to what’s happening in the market.” But for now Mayer Brown is the story.

Eight years after Chicago’s Mayer Brown & Platt merged with London’s Rowe & Maw, dreams of the transatlantic powerhouse the deal was expected to create have failed to come true.

The London office has shrunk rather than grown over recent years, while last year’s election of Chicago partner Bert Krueger as firmwide chair, coupled with the departure of City driving force Paul Maher, served to cut London adrift, at least in terms of morale.

Managing partners talk a good game about Asia being the new strategic frontier – and in that respect Mayer Brown’s JSM tie-up gave it an early-mover advantage – but in truth cracking the US-UK conundrum remains the Holy Grail.

The merger mill has been gearing up for action at least since the start of the recession, yet as recently as a year ago there was no sign of a serious deal.

The Hogan & Hartson-Lovells deal was the catalyst the market needed; now it could take just a deal or two more for that market to be transformed.

And with Mayer Brown’s hunger, the rules of the consolidation game have shifted. With firms that have one transatlantic deal under their belts ­coming back for more, the merger pool just got a lot more crowded.