Resistance forces change of tactics

"Ashursts was plan A. This is our plan B," so says Bill Voge, Latham & Watkins' executive committee member.

It's not taken the US giant long to bounce back from the collapse of talks with Ashurst Morris Crisp, but far from plan B being second best, it could mark a sea-change in the way US firms look at operating on this side of the Atlantic.

Voge tells The Lawyer this week that his firm plans to avoid wasting time on looking for marriage partners, and instead build up its office and grow the business organically – starting with three top partners and five other lawyers flying over from the US.

This small-scale landing is not, of course, the whole story. In effect, plan B is a poaching plan. The organic growth the firm envisages is dependent on bringing the best European lawyers into the US firm's office in London. Having found the organisational structure and – as we argued when the Ashursts deal collapsed – the culture of UK firms impossible to work with, Lathams intends to reject the firms and concentrate on the talent.

It is unlikely that Lathams is the only US firm looking for alternatives to the frustrating process of trying to merge. Aggressive poaching initiatives can, after all, be set in motion comparatively painlessly and deliver immediate benefits.

European practices should view Lathams' plan B as a far bigger threat than the more easily rebuffed predatory approaches from managers opening merger discussions. If recalcitrant refusal to bend as demonstrated by Ashursts just a few weeks ago was plan A, maybe it's time to develop plan B.