Shaking hands across the Atlantic

The international scene has livened up considerably this month with talk of a fresh wave of transatlantic mergers and high profile links.

Rumours that Freshfields and US firm Davis Polk Wardell are getting together have been circulating for a long time, although both firms have strongly denied the rumours. Slaughter and May has also figured in the equation.

Weil Gotshal & Manges' move to secure a high-profile team of banking and corporate lawyers is one which will make both US and UK firms sit up and take note. And the Linklaters & Paines joint venture in Frankfurt with Schon Nolte Finkeinburg & Clemm shows a clear change in strategy for Linklaters in Germany.

Getting the right international strategy has proved quite a task for firms and some have been more successful than others. Germany in particular has posed problems with its strong local profession and powerful in-house counsel. Some firms have closed down their offices there, others like Freshfields have hired local lawyers.

Whether Linklaters' change of strategy will work only time will tell. However, onlookers will watch with interest how the relationship between the two develops.

On the Freshfields front, the idea of a US-UK merger would create vibrations of seismic proportions on both sides of the Atlantic. There is a certain inevitability that such a move will happen between two major firms although no one downplays the difficulties in putting such a deal together. With competition for premium work at an all-time peak, the stakes are high.

But as James Wyness, Linklaters & Paines senior partner succinctly puts it in The Financial Times: "Will it be done? Yes. Will we panic? Yes, like mad. Is it the only strategy? I suspect many different strategies will work."