New York’s overextended Indian summer finally broke last week. By Thursday (11 October) the 86° heat had gone, replaced by a violent downpour that drenched the city and its inhabitants.
So sudden change is in the air. But how about in the rarefied air breathed by the city’s top corporate firms? Well, no change there.
“In the worldwide M&A market Linklaters play at the same level as us,” one top New York corporate partner told me last week. “But in US domestic M&A they’re invisible.”
Linklaters’ bold plan to take on Manhattan has shaken the local legal market about as much as a properly mixed martini – not at all.
But if Americas head John Tucker can succeed in getting the firm across the table from a Wall Street titan on some future big-ticket US deal? Well, that would stir things up.
Linklaters has been on a growth curve in New York for more than three years now and, along with more or less everybody else, has recently been doing fine. Although it would have been pretty hard last year in New York not to make money.
But the firm has a long, long road ahead of it if it is to achieve its ambition of turning it into a ‘real contender’ in the city. What gets noticed here is who’s on the other side of the deal. Right now in the top domestic M&A, that’s not Linklaters.
Take this comment from a top New York M&A partner: “If Linklaters could buy a franchise of significance, things would change overnight. That would give them credibility in the US market. Without that, where will they get that credibility? Nobody in this city knows who the hell Linklaters are.”
I think the word here is ‘sceptical’.
That’s not to say Tucker’s move – a statement of intent – has not been noticed. No one’s stupid enough to rule out the firm’s chances. But the only UK firm that gets even grudging recognition in Manhattan is Clifford Chance, and that took a merger and years of considerable pain to achieve.
If it is to be organic growth that Linklaters pursues in the US, then convincing the talent it needs to leave their firms and join what is effectively a start-up will take all of Tucker’s considerable talents.