The partnerships of Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) and US law firm Bryan Cave are to vote on their transatlantic tie-up, with the outcome set to be unveiled at the end of February.
If successful, the union would bring to an end the City firm’s quest for a US suitor, with BLP having less than two years ago failed to strike a deal with Greenberg Traurig.
‘BLP and Bryan Cave confirm that a proposal to combine the two firms will be voted upon by both partnerships with an outcome expected the week of 26 February,’ said a BLP spokesperson.
A combination would create a 1,700-lawyer practice with 32 offices across 12 countries. The St Louis-bred Bryan Cave has 910 lawyers in 26 offices, including 19 bases in the US. It recorded profit per equity partner (PEP) of $866,000 in 2016 compared to £630,000 for 840-lawyer BLP in 2016/17.
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.
Bryan Cave is no stranger to merger discussions. It has seen recent talks abandoned after having been 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.
It is fair to say that the union has garnered a mixed response in the industry since the proposed tie-up emerged in October, even allowing for the fact that peers rarely miss a chance to talk down a rival.
The deal has, according to some reports, been met in BLP’s partner ranks with a pragmatic shrug rather than wild enthusiasm. Nonetheless, the vote is viewed as a formality in what will be one of the select handful of substantial transatlantic legal unions to have made it over the line. Given that the original marriage of Paisner & Co and Berwin Leighton defied low expectations during the 2000s, the City real estate leader will be hoping to repeat the trick on a larger scale.
For more commentary on the union see ‘A certain loss of confidence’