Ashurst uses quick-fire questioning to gauge support for US merger deal

Ashurst is sounding out partners on a US merger amid attempts by the firm’s management to get buy-in for the idea of a Stateside tie-up.

Charlie Geffen
Charlie Geffen

Senior partner Charlie Geffen has been taking partners out for dinner in groups of roughly 20 and posing them a list of questions about strategy leading to a final one about an American combination.

Early questions have included those along the lines of ‘Do you want to be an elite international firm?’ and ‘Do you want to be highly profitable?’, with partners asked to answer yes or no using an electronic push-button system.

The last question asks whether partners want to merge with a US firm, implying that being a global leader and highly remunerative are only possible through an American deal.

The sessions have been open to all partners across Ashurst’s UK and international offices, including the Australian bases added to the firm’s network following its tie-up last year with local firm Blake Dawson.

It is unclear for how many weeks or months Geffen has been hosting the dinners, although they are understood to have been running until very recently and are ongoing.

No firm name has been put to the partners, but the City outfit has been linked with a range of American firms based in a number of hubs. It is understood that Geffen has made several relationship-building trips to the US in the past two years and has long been determined to pull off a deal.

A US combination is widely expected for Ashurst, which built a clause into its agreement with Blakes stipulating that it could pull out of the joint venture should it merge with a US player. The combination Down Under is not currently financial integrated, but a full profit-sharing merger is planned for 2014.

Legacy Ashurst Morris Crisp held merger talks with US firm Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson 10 years ago, but these were called off after similar discussions with Latham & Watkins ended in 2001 (6 May 2003).

An Ashurst spokesperson said in a statement: “We’re engaging in a series of discussions and feedback sessions with the partners as part of a continued process of taking soundings from them about a number of strategic issues.”