In January 2005 DLA Piper hooked up with US duo Piper Rudnick and Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich, triggering a debate that looks no more resolved as I type these words in January 2015. The issue boils down to: what is a firm? And can unions between legal practices maintaining separate finances, partnerships and governance be considered by clients, staff, peers and regulators to be a single institution?
The debate has only become more intense given the string of verein-based tie-ups since 2009. Hard and fast rules are elusive. In reality some – notably Hogan Lovells and in recent years DLA Piper – operate as a single institution. But with some other firms, discerning the nature of the merger, sorry ‘combination’ – the word increasingly bandied around to reconcile these conflicting realities – is a challenge.