One suspects that these mergers did not just founder because recession was looming. The seeds of their demise were sown way before 11 September. Whatever the Theodore Goddard spin, no one seriously believes that its talks with Salans failed as a direct result of the World Trade Center atrocity – although that might have been the final straw.
No, Theodore Goddard – now the biggest tease in the profession – simply couldn't summon up enough enthusiasm in the first place. (Look chaps, any more of this, and 'doing a Theodore' will enter into law firm parlance.) After all, the original business case – the need to broaden the practice internationally without stretching current resources – still stands.
Hewitson's rationale for talking to Linnells also still exists. It is committed to attacking the Oxford market, whether by merger or raid. For Hewitson, the Oxford-Cambridge corridor is the best way of making itself attractive to North Americans, despite the retrenchment among US technology firms. As one Hewitson source puts it, the merger was called off mostly on a gut feeling that it was simply not going to gel.
For Wragges, too, the business case behind its talks with Tarlo Lyons was strong; Wragges dominates the West Midlands to such an extent that future growth would have to be outside the region. Tarlo Lyons was not in the same minnow category as Needham & Grant or Neil F Jones, both of which were swallowed up by the Birmingham giant. To accommodate Tarlo Lyons, Wragges' self-image would have had to be entirely refashioned. Emotionally speaking Wragges is still a single office; that has defined the firm for so long that the partners were unable to take the leap of faith.
There is another reason why the talks all collapsed; Theodore Goddard, Hewitson and Wragges spent endless time toing and froing or taking soundings within their firms. By contrast, Denton Wilde Sapte and Hammond Suddards Edge are both textbook examples of how to pull off a merger in the current legal market: present it as a fait accompli to the partners and then make sure they're all too stunned to voice any protest. So for those firms bent on merger by consensus? Just make sure the management sells it on an emotional and not just a rational level.