Blue blooded Slaughter and May has a fairly unique alliance of best friends with elite corporate law firms in Italy (Bonelli Erede Pappallardo), France (bredin Prat), Germany (Hengeler Mueller) and Spain (Uria Menendez).
These best friends have always pursued a fiercely independent model quite at odds with the global law firm model of the magic circle and many of the large US firms.
And the reason were all talking about them this week, is because Slaughters and Hengeler, who launched the model, seem to be going down slightly divergent paths with their choice of new best friends in emerging and highly lucrative markets.
The ‘best friends’ moniker that Slaughters uses to describe its alliance of likeminded firms has always had that cute ring of the playground about it. Only Slaughters could get away with it really.
But the trouble with best friends is that they’re all individuals and sometimes they pal up with the naughty kids on the other side of the playground. And sometimes they talk behind your back with other kids – some of whom you don’t really like.
Eversheds, for example, had a whole bunch of its mates signed up to service one of its major clients Tyco, but that didn’t stop one of them, Finnish firm Fennica, dumping it for a merger with Bird & Bird.
Eversheds would have liked a merger with Fennica itself, but the UK firm failed to sell itself as well as it did with another Tyco friend, South African firm Routledges Modise, which it did merge with.
Apparently Eversheds was a bit surprised when Fennica announced its merger with Bird & Bird, suggesting that the friends weren’t quite as close as they thought. Which is why, as a rule, Eversheds doesn’t really go in for this best friends lark.
Like other firms that aspire to global coverage, it wants Eversheds offices, not buddies. But in the wake of its revolutionary relationship with Tyco, Eversheds is now very process-driven, and not all firms are willing to sacrifice their art to be a cog in the Eversheds machine. In that sense it shares a lot with fierce rival DLA Piper. Its just a bit smaller.
Which is where Slaughters, Hengeler and its buddies are coming from. But Spanish best friend Ur?Men?ez is pursuing an aggressive global strategy, opening in 15 cities around the world.
Ur?will need a few machine-like processes to stop its increasingly disparate offices growing remote and a source at the Spanish firm confided that the alliance is not necessarily as close as Slaughters likes to make out.
There are no fatal fissures between Slaughters, Ur?or Hengeler yet, but it seems that Slaughters is playing the field in the search of new allies while the German is keen to commit to a new best mate. You can see how the glue that once bound these firms could loosen.