Patton Boggs and Squire Sanders: a fine romance?

Patton Boggs and Squire Sanders are flirting, but will it end in marriage?

Last week Washington-based Patton Boggs and Squire Sanders confirmed they had kicked off preliminary merger talks. Other than that brief statement neither side is saying much, although informally the firms are going to great pains to stress that just because they’ve started dating, it doesn’t mean they’re going to get hitched.

And to be fair, there are a growing number of aborted merger talks littering the market. Just last year we had Dentons and McKenna Long & Aldridge and Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman while in the UK this year Davenport Lyons has had two aborted merger talks all of its own, with Shakespeares and HowardKennedyFsi.

The Patton Boggs/Squire Sanders talks really are understood to be early stage, with sources suggesting they began around two weeks ago.

Both firms knew each other already and made the initial contact directly rather than through any intermediary.

Although it’s early days, indications are that the conversations have already got beyond just the two firms’ leaderships. The broader partnership is already understood to be involved as the diligence process wades through issues such as culture, financial metrics and client base fit.

And on paper it looks like a good fit. Patton Boggs, headquartered in Washington, is one of the US’ pre-eminent public policy and lobbying Beltway firms with nine offices including Dallas, Denver, and Anchorage as well as a network in the Middle East.

Squire Sanders has 39 offices across 19 countries, a strong European and Asia-Pacific position and a highly ranked Latin American practice.

The combined firm would have around 1,700 lawyers in 45 offices across 22 countries. It would give Patton Boggs the international platform its clients are increasingly demanding and Squire Sanders a big kick up in DC.

The deal wouldn’t do much for the merged firm’s presence in New York, by the way, with Patton Boggs having around 20 lawyers in Manhattan and Squire Sanders just 30. Work here still to do.

For Squire Sanders this deal, if it happens, would simply be the next chapter of the same book. In recent years it has grown by merger and the reality is that Squire Sanders, like many firms, is talking to potential merger – or takeover – targets constantly. Most come to nothing and neither do they reach a wider audience (again, sources say that just because this one has you shouldn’t interpret that as meaning it’s a done deal).

One difference with this deal is that Patton Boggs has been under the microscope recently, not least because it is one of the firms that has already been in merger talks that ultimately came to nothing (in this case it was with Texas-based firm Locke Lord, although the talks ultimately collapsed).

Expect both firms to take a very hard look at each other and, most likely, a very quick look. Neither side will want protracted talks with months of toing and froing played out in the press. History shows that rarely leads to a happy marriage.