Exclusive: BLP and Bryan Cave confirm merger talks

Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) and Bryan Cave have entered into preliminary merger negotiations.

In a statement released to The Lawyer, BLP confirmed the merger talks.

BLP managing partner Lisa Mayhew said: “Our two firms share a strong commitment to innovation in the interests of our clients. We also have an unusually strong cultural fit with a mutual focus on collaboration across our businesses in the interests of deep and lasting client relationships. It is encouraging for the potential firm that BLP and Bryan Cave both have this complementary heritage, but crucially also share the same ambitions for the future.”

Bryan Cave chair Therese Pritchard said: “If we combine we will operate without regard to geographic boundaries. Our firm would be one of only a handful of global firms operating in a one-firm structure with more than 500 lawyers in both the US and also internationally. We will seamlessly provide counsel to clients across the globe, deliver client service at a new level and use technology and innovation to redefine efficiency in the practice of law.”

A merger would create a firm of around 582 partners and $989.5m (£744m) in annual turnover, and would gift BLP with an additional 13 partners in London. The firm would have 32 offices in 12 countries and a platform of 1,200 lawyers.

The Lawyer understands that partners at BLP were called into an emergency meeting last week (12 October 2017) in which the exploratory talks were discussed. Partners are expected to reconvene this week to further discuss the talks.

In the latest UK 200 report, Berwin Leighton Paisner’s figures showed a 7 per cent rise from £254m to £272m in 2016/17, but the firm also saw its average profit per equity partner (PEP) fall by almost 8 per cent to £630,000. BLP did not provide net profit but The Lawyer estimated this at £50.4m, based on 80 full equity partners on an average of £630,000.

Meanwhile, Bryan Cave’s LLPs for the 2016 period show a 32 per cent increase in revenue from €4.8m to €6.4m, generated by an average of nine equity partners, up from seven in 2015.

BLP’s global RPL stood at $561,000 compared to Bryan Cave’s $699,000, The Lawyer’s Global 200 report shows. Revenue per partner stood at $1.6m (£1.2m) and $1.9m (£1.4m) respectively.

The firm’s merged revenue would put it below King & Spalding ($1.06bn) and above Squire Patton Boggs ($983.1m) at number 35 in the Global 200.

Both firm’s practice mix is interesting: real estate is BLP’s largest practice area with 68 partners, followed by corporate (37) and litigation (27). These are also the three most important practice areas at Bryan Cave, although the order is different: litigation with 122 partners, followed by corporate with 86 and real estate with 48.

This is not the first time that Bryan Cave has broached merger talks involving the UK. In 2006, the proposed merger between Bryan Cave and legacy Squire Sanders & Dempsey collapsed after the two firms failed to reach agreement over the structure of the tie-up.

At the time, London City managing ­partner Anthony Fiducia did not make a secret of the fact that his firm was hoping to secure a ­merger in the UK in a bid to cement its position in the European market.

Bryan Cave later entered into merger talks with Washington DC outfit Dickstein Shapiro, which was reportedly approved by partners, then rejected, then silenced. The latter ended its 65-year run by closing in Washington DC and New York with almost all of its 100-plus lawyers moving to Blank Rome.

BLP entered into merger talks with US outfit Greenberg Traurig last year,which were called off after the firms “failed to find enough commonalities for the tie-up”.

BLP has long been on the hunt for a US merger partner but managing partner Lisa Mayhew said at the time that the firm would focus first on developing its own strategy and any future tie-up would have to align with that.

Since then, sources in the market have claimed that BLP has entered into preliminary discussions with both Norton Rose Fulbright and Simmons & Simmons before starting discussions with Bryan Cave. However BLP denied any merger talks with Norton Rose.