Paris firm scores a first with takeover of London practice

Paris-based Salans Hertzfeld & Heilbronn has become the first Continental firm to move into UK law, by swallowing up 50-lawyer Holborn practice Harris Rosenblatt & Kramer.

The merged firm, to be called Salans Hertzfeld & Heilbronn HRK locally but dropping the HRK outside the UK, will have about 200 lawyers, a quarter of them based in London.

Salans Hertzfeld currently has eight lawyers stationed at its Mayfair office, but they will relocate to new premises in the City at the start of next year when the merger takes effect.

Described by Salans Hertzfeld London partner Robert Starr as a full merger, the move is one of the few cases of a foreign firm merging with a UK practice. It follows the recent acquisition by US firm Coudert Brothers of property practice Debenham & Co.

It is also highly unusual as Continental law firms, unlike their US counterparts, have traditionally been averse to the idea of practising English law.

Starr explained that the firm had originally looked at acquiring UK-qualified lawyers to support its practice in central and eastern Europe where it has five offices.

We were looking for a team or teams of lawyers [in London] to fill areas we thought were complementary to our East-West practice and, in the process of looking to fill these niches, we came across Harris Rosenblatt. It was a process that developed by getting to know each other.

Roger Abrahams, Harris Rosenblatt partner, said the two were introduced through mutual friends and that merger talks took place over the summer.

With 50 lawyers, Harris Rosenblatt is a niche player in the asset finance area and is also active in other areas such as property and employment.

However, it is not well-known on the international circuit and, although it is a member of the Lawrope network of law firms, it was looking to improve its European profile. Abrahams said: There were lost opportunities in not having a presence internationally. Its ties with Lawrope are in the process of being severed.

Starr stressed that the firm does not want to be full-service in England and will continue to concentrate on developing targeted areas, saying: The two firms share a vision of being a leading firm in Europe, recognised not as a global law firm but one with specific expertise in specific practice areas.