Legal Business Blogs

BLP and Bryan Cave back deal to forge top 50 global player but will combined firm have potency?

Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP)’s quest for a US merger is over after its proposed transatlantic tie-up with Bryan Cave was given the green light by partners.

The new firm will be called Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner (BCLP) and will officially launch in April this year after the partnerships of each firm announced the result of their merger vote today (26 February), a few weeks after the proposal was formally announced. This after BLP less than two years ago failed to strike a deal with Greenberg Traurig.

BCLP will be a financially-integrated practice with 32 offices across 12 countries, good for a combined revenue of more than $900m. The combined firm will edge into the Global top 50 in revenue terms.

The St Louis-bred Bryan Cave has 910 lawyers in 26 offices, including 19 branches in the US. It recorded profit per equity partner (PEP) of $866,000 in 2016 compared to £630,000 for the 840-lawyer BLP in 2016/17.

BLP managing partner Lisa Mayhew issued a statement lauding the union in aspirational terms, noting the tie-up was: ‘Different to most other international firms, ours will be fully financially integrated from day one. This will enable us to work in teams whose only focus will be to provide a first class service to clients.’

Bryan Cave chair Therese Pritchard expounded in a similar vein: ‘Both firms have long traditions of building strong relationships – both with clients and within our firms. This legacy is reflected in shared values, including a core belief that our greatest asset is our people and our greatest responsibility is to our clients.’

In the top 75 of the Global 100 based on revenue ($607.8m), Bryan Cave has recorded pedestrian top-line growth of 9% over the past five years. While its revenue per lawyer at $639,000 compares respectably with some US competitors, its profit margin at 28% is low for a major American player.

It is also no stranger to merger discussions, having seen recent talks abandoned after being on the brink of acquiring DC disputes and regulatory firm Dickstein Shapiro in 2015 before it agreed a deal with Blank Rome. The firm previously acquired Denver’s Holme Roberts & Owen in 2012, Atlanta’s Powell Goldstein in 2009 and New York’s Robinson, Silverman, Pearce, Aronsohn & Berman in 2002.

The BLP-Bryan Cave merger garnered a mixed response in the industry since the tie-up emerged in October, and according to some reports was met in BLP’s partner ranks with a pragmatic shrug rather than wild enthusiasm. Nevertheless, the vote was viewed as a formality, making it one of a select handful of substantial transatlantic legal unions to have made it over the line.

With BLP still viewed in the City as a very significant property and mid-market operator despite a lean recent few years, there will be much focus in the UK on if a deal can get the firm back to its 2000s glory days or just provide more scale.

For more comment on the union click here.