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‘Focus and speed’: A&O to fast-track US investment after foiled O’Melveny merger with new hires imminent

Andrew Ballheimer, Allen & Overy’s (A&O’s) global managing partner, has promised heavy investment in its US practice in the wake of the City giant’s abandoned tie-up with O’Melveny & Myers, saying new US hires are on the verge of being announced.

Speaking to Legal Business on Friday (6 September), Ballheimer said the market could expect ‘more focus and speed of execution’ in the Magic Circle firm’s US recruitment push as new partners, including US lawyers, have recently been voted in by the partnership.

The news came in just days after A&O and O’Melveny admitted that protracted talks for a transatlantic combination had been abandoned, citing the impact of Brexit-induced currency turmoil.

The proposed deal had been sketched out in detail before falling at the final hurdle, with the merged firm’s name, compensation structure and governance all hammered out before it fell through. In spite of disappointment that the merger, a chance to create an international player with more than 3,000 lawyers and combined revenues of around £2.4bn, Ballheimer pledges that A&O would swiftly adjust to pushing through its US strategy.

‘We now have a better understanding of the US market having been through the potential merger process. You will see much more investment from us in the States than historically,’ said Ballheimer, insisting that, although too small compared with the potential opportunity, A&O’s current US offering remains high-quality.

Senior partner Wim Dejonghe and Ballheimer have put building out a credible US business at the top of their agenda since 2016 when they took up their management roles. Ballheimer confirmed that he and Dejonghe would continue to the end of their terms next year. ‘Wim and I are committed to the firm and plan to continue to the end of our terms. We have received a large number of generous messages of support from the partnership and leaders of other law firms.’

A&O is expected to keep a weather eye for another US merger but is realistically expected to shift focus towards building the practice organically. Said Ballheimer: ‘There are two key criteria we apply when looking at individual or team hires or for a potential merger – top-tier quality and a good cultural fit. Our culture is special and we are proud of it. We are building out globally in our own image. Any opportunities that we look at must meet those two key criteria. O’Melveny would have been a good fit – it is a top-tier practice and the culture is similar. Our mutual priorities are the client first, the team and the individual partner in that order.’

A&O started looking at detailed merger terms 18 months ago with the protracted timeframe attributed to the desire to create a fully-integrated law firm from launch rather than a verein structure where there would have been years of discussion on how to fully combine.

Ballheimer struck a bullish note on A&O’s positioning in the brutally-competitive global market: ‘We are in the same place that we were before the merger talks started – a leading member of the global elite – and a truly global law firm. Our position is strong. We are disappointed that we missed the opportunity to pull away from the other leading firms but our goal and ambition are unchanged.’