the Leader column

International securities throws up the strangest bedfellows – just ask Simmons & Simmons and Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson. For years, it has been assumed that Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer would only ever do the US deal with Davis Polk & Wardwell or Simpson Thacher & Bartlett. So the fact that it is talking to Debevoise & Plimpton (and is also considering Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton) about teaming up for equity capital markets work, will be scrutinised by all the other firms in the top 10.

Freshfields certainly needs to beef up its US securities side. The US piece has been a headache for all the major UK practices; you can virtually count the number of registered offerings done by City firms on the fingers of one hand. Freshfields particularly needs to strengthen its debt side in order to support its acquisition finance and structured finance businesses. Assuming that the firm’s US securities lawyers’ noses are not put out of joint by the move, Debevoise (or Cleary Gottlieb) can certainly provide useful back-up. There’s plenty of material for discussion when the US agenda comes up at the next Freshfields partnership council meeting in March next year.

Clifford Chance is taking an equally robust approach. Stung by The Lawyer’s revelations back in September about how much it was trailing its magic circle rivals on initial public offerings (IPOs), Clifford Chance is all of a sudden taking equity capital markets seriously. The fact that the initiative is led by Adam Signy, probably the firm’s top M&A rainmaker, and Nick Wrigley, widely tipped as the heir to Michael Bray, underlines its political importance. The party line from Aldersgate Street is: “We may be trailing in the UK, but watch us go in Europe.”

It is odd, then, that only one Continental jurisdiction is represented on the taskforce – Italy, courtesy of Nick Wrigley. So where is Germany? Isn’t that the hottest IPO market in Europe? And isn’t Markus Pfüller’s equity capital markets practice at Clifford Chance Pünder one of the firm’s success stories?

Most of all, the two initiatives provide a fascinating insight into Freshfields’ and Clifford Chance’s contrasting strategies. Any localised relationship Freshfields develops will not, or so it hopes, harm its chances of pulling off the big US merger. Clifford Chance’s equity capital markets strategy, meanwhile, will see it go head-to-head with the Wall Street giants in Europe.

Linklaters & Alliance: your move.