Eversheds and Holman Fenwick Willan head for US mergers

Eversheds and Holman Fenwick Willan head for US mergers


A year of merger mania continues as UK firms eye up international opportunities

Transatlantic mergers are all the rage this week following the news that both Eversheds and Holman Fenwick Willan are due to complete tie-ups with US-based firms.

Eversheds’ long-term interest in a US merger was clearly not dented after the proposed tie-up with Milwaukee-based Foley & Lardner broke down last year. Instead the international firm has approached Sutherland Asbill & Brennan over a ‘proposed combination’ of firms.

At present, Eversheds operates 55 offices in 28 jurisdictions across Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. The merger with Sutherland would add offices in Atlanta, Austin, California, Houston, New York, Sacramento, and Washington DC, along with London and Geneva.

If all goes as planned, the ‘new entity’, Eversheds Sutherland, will comprise more than 2,300 lawyers, with more than 500 partners, and have a global footprint spanning 61 offices in 29 countries.

In a statement released last night, the rationale for the proposed transaction was said to be ‘driven by a shared vision of providing clients with high-quality, consistent, and coordinated service around the globe’.

Commenting on the proposals, Eversheds’ chief executive, Bryan Hughes, said joining forces with Sutherland would ‘give each firm’s clients a global platform’ and confirmed that the merger would be subject to a partnership discussion in the coming weeks. A vote on the deal is expected before the end of the year.

Sutherland’s managing partner, Mark Wasserman, also concentrated on the benefits the tie-up would bring for clients, adding: ‘We look forward to discussions over the next few weeks about the opportunities this transaction will bring to our clients’.

The announcement follows news that Holman Fenwick Willan is to merge with Texan civil litigation outfit Legge Farrow Kimmitt McGrath & Brown. Houston, where Legge Farrow is based, is an important geographical market for HFW and its clients – the city is second only to New York as a home to Fortune 500 companies and is known as the energy centre of the world for the oil and gas industry.

Richard Crump, HFW’s global senior partner, said: ‘Having an on-the-ground US office has been a goal for some time and this merger will bring us closer to our existing clients in the region, and enable us to develop more business in our key sectors of oil and gas, marine, and aviation, which are key growth sectors in the region, as well as building out our sector capability.’

Glenn Legge, one of the founding partners of Legge Farrow, added: ‘We are extremely pleased to be formalising our long-standing relationship with HFW. We are very similar in terms of culture and providing pragmatic, cost effective services. Further, we both value the importance of in-depth sector knowledge.

‘Through the merger, we are able to offer HFW an opportunity to enhance its existing presence in the US, and for us the merger provides our multinational clients with access to an established and well-recognised international network.’

By adding Legge Farrow’s eight partners and nine associates to its ranks, the merger will bring the headcount at HFW to 170 partners and 450 lawyers, plus other fee earners and staff, totalling 915. The deal is expected to be completed on 3 January 2017.

In news closer to home, DWF has revealed plans to merge with Belfast-based commercial firm C & H Jefferson effective 1 December. When complete the merger will add five new partners to DWF and create its 12th UK office.

C & H Jefferson is one of the largest legal practices in Northern Ireland and has a particular focus on the banking and finance sector. It also has expertise in litigation, professional indemnity, public liability, and motor claims, complementing DWF’s existing national insurance practice.

DWF’s managing partner and CEO, Andrew Leaitherland, commented: ‘We are always looking at strategic opportunities for growth that will enhance our legal capability in key practice areas and allow us to offer our clients advantages in terms of resource, reach, and multi-jurisdiction expertise. The legal market in Northern Ireland is vibrant, and rapidly changing, and this merger makes us well equipped to take advantage of the growing number of opportunities it presents for our clients in target sectors.’

Ken Rutherford, C & H Jefferson’s managing partner, added: ‘As our international client base has grown we have continued to explore how we can adapt in order to meet their changing needs. DWF is a very strong fit for us in terms of its culture and approach to legal services, and through this merger we will be able to create new opportunities for our clients with the benefit of DWF’s expansive national footprint, service efficiencies, and growing international remit.’

The last 12 months have witnessed a number of failed and successful high-profile mergers, starting with the completion of a £250m deal between Irwin Mitchell and Thomas Eggar. The biggest of them all occurred just last month, however, when CMS UK, Nabarro, and Olswang announced a ‘game-changing’ three-way merger to form the UK’s sixth-largest firm by revenue.

John van der Luit-Drummond is deputy editor for Solicitors Journal

john.vanderluit@solicitorsjournal.co.uk | @JvdLD