Orrick and Pillsbury kill $1.4bn mega-merger plan

San Francisco-based Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman have called off merger talks that would have created a $1.4bn giant with two bases in London. 

It was not clear how advanced the discussions were when they emerged in October (28 October 2013), but a tie-up between the two would have marked one of America’s biggest ever law firm mergers. The two firms told Reuters on Monday (25 November) that the talks were called off due to client conflicts.

The move adds to a pile of unsuccessful merger discussions from Orrick’s side. The firm’s talks with legacy Dewey Ballantine fell through in 2007 after Dewey chairman Mort Pierce is understood to have refused to sign an employment agreement, prompted by the dissatisfaction of a number of Dewey partners with the terms of the agreement (15 January 2007). Two failed attempts at deals with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and SJ Berwin followed in 2010. 

The failed SJ Berwin merger in particular highlighted one of the biggest ongoing problems at Orrick and an urgent item on new boss Mitch Zuklie’s agenda – namely, what to do about London. Previous chairman Ralph Baxter, who led the US firm for 23 years (12 November 2013), told The Lawyer last year that he was “always” looking for potential merger opportunities to grow the London office.   

He said: ”It’s true that we’re not big enough [in London]. Orrick has been ambitious but we haven’t made the progress we’d like to have made. However, we’re determined – London is mission-critical for us. I’m always looking for teams and potential merger opportunities but they’re few and far between.”

After the talks between Orrick and Pillsbury were announced sources kept quiet on how the potential tie-up could impact on either firm’s London office, with one insider claiming they didn’t know anything about it.

According to Reuters the two firms have now entered into an agreement under which they cannot recruit from each other for one year. 

Neither Orrick or Pillsbury responded to requests for comment at the time of writing.

Read more about Zuklie’s appointment here.