SJ Berwin US merger rumours intensify as strategy committee draws up list of suitors

SJ Berwin is to forge a best friends network in the US, fuelling speculation that it will seek a US merger once outgoing senior partner David Harrel steps down from his post.

The silver circle firm’s strategy committee is in the process of identifying a handful of US firms with which it wants to forge a formal relationship, although discussions are at an early stage.

Debevoise & Plimpton, Dewey Ballantine, Nixon Peabody and Proskauer Rose are understood to be under consideration, as SJ Berwin has previously shared informal referrals with them.

One observer forecasted that SJ Berwin would re-evaluate its US strategy in favour of a merger following Harrel’s replacement as senior partner.

Harrel, who is well known for his anti-US merger stance, is to step down from the role early next year after 13 years at the helm.

Harrel damned claims that the firm was heading down the US merger trail, or that it would consider doing so, stating that any discussions with US-based firms related solely to developing the best friends referral network.

The speculation comes as a new wave of US firms have arrived in London over the summer to discuss the possibility of transatlantic mergers with a dwindling number of available mid-sized law firms. This group includes SJ Berwin’s potential best friend targets Proskauer Rose and Nixon Peabody.

The development of SJ Berwin’s referral network coincides with an internal review of the firm’s strategy and business, which is being overseen by management consultancy Hildebrandt.