Legal Business

The end of A&O’s marathon O’Melveny merger bid reveals the stark choices facing the Magic Circle

This article sits in the news leader slot of our latest issue, but when considering Allen & Overy (A&O) and its epic courtship of O’Melveny & Myers, the defining factor has been the absence of news. Since it emerged last spring that A&O was in merger talks with the Los Angeles-bred firm, there have been bare scraps of information, alongside alternating whispers the deal was/was not on. Finally the resolution came on 2 September, with the pair announcing the end of the talks with the traditional noises about mutual respect.

The reason for the long delay was as much the scale and ambition of the merger as the inevitable complications of bringing 700 partners on side. The looming spectre of a messy ‘no-deal’ Brexit and fresh falls in sterling further strained a delicate situation, probably tipping it over the edge. Not only were the firms aiming for full financial integration upfront – a move never attempted on the scale of a £2.4bn transatlantic union – the aim was to do an immediate merging of governance, leadership and remuneration. Forget vereins and grace periods kicking tricky issues down the road. That all-in approach raised the stakes and logistic issues enormously. Not least it would have involved substantive reform of A&O’s remuneration structure to make it more compatible with a US firm.