FFW opens talks with three top 40 firms in bid for City dominance

Field Fisher Waterhouse is in early stage merger talks with three top 40 firms, including Osborne Clarke.

The Lawyer understands that FFW and Osborne Clarke have had preliminary discussions about a possible £200m merger, since FFW’s proposed tie-up with Lawrence Graham broke down in June.

A source close to FFW said: “There has also been dialogue at a very early stage with two other top 30 firms who have shown an interest in merging with us. That was as a result of the LG talks ending. Two of the firms that we have spoken to have previously been in discussion with LG, but came to the same view that we did.”

The source said firms are drawn to FFW’s “jewel in the crown” – the IP and telecoms practice which bills at least 35 per cent of total turnover. The firm’s European footprint is another attractive asset, he said.

None of the current potential tie-ups have reached the stage of the LG discussions, which ended acrimoniously with FFW claiming LG’s financials were the reason for the breakdown and a counter accusation of a divided partnership at FFW from LG (28 June 2012).

FFW managing partner Matthew Lohn, who was the driving force behind the LG merger talks, has been on leave since the summer. Technology and outsourcing head Michael Chissick is filling in on an interim basis and continuing the firm’s hunt for a partnership.

FFW announced a 20 per cent drop in average profit per equity partner (PEP) with a 4 per cent increase in revenue for the 2011-12 financial year. Fee income for the firm rose to £97.5m for the 2011-12 financial year from £94m in 2010-11, with estimated PEP falling from £510,000 to £410,000.

Osborne Clarke posted an 8 per cent rise in revenue and a 1 per cent increase in average profit per equity partner (PEP). The firmwide revenue was up to £97.7m with a PEP of £406,000.

The FFW and LG combination would have created a £150m entity and plugged the gap in the latter’s expensive More London Riverside offices, but it was called off before it was put formally to partners.

At the time, Lohn said: “Merger is still an option for Field Fisher Waterhouse – we have ambitious growth plans and merger is one way to achieve those goals. Whilst there were some good synergies between the two firms we never reached the stage of putting it to partners and are not taking the process forward.”

The Lawyer reported (18 May 2012) that FFW had spoken to a number of firms about a merger.

In a statement today, FFW said: “It is well known that merger is on Field Fisher Waterhouse’s agenda as potentially one way of achieving our ambitious growth plans and strategic objectives. This means that like many in the mid-market we have been speaking to a number of firms to explore the benefits that such a merger would bring. We will not be commenting on individual talks unless they reach an appropriate stage.”

“We can confirm that Charlie Keeling will be leaving the firm next month to take on a new role as global HR director at Clyde & Co. Charlie has been a great asset to the firm and we would like to thank him for his contribution over the last five years both as HR director and latterly as COO.”

“We can also confirm that Michael Chissick, head of technology and outsourcing at the firm and a member of the executive committee is currently standing in for managing partner Matthew Lohn, whilst he takes a period of leave.”

Osborne Clarke also issued a statement. It said: “We’re committed to an expansion plan, so we always evaluate opportunities as they arise. As you’d expect, however, any potential merger partner would have to be a great cultural and strategic fit with OC. Equally, as you’d expect, we don’t comment on any talks until they’re at an appropriate stage.”