SNR Denton, Salans and Fraser Milner Casgrain: Mega-merger of lawyers 'is biggest yet'

UK, United States, French and Canadian firms join forces to snap up more lucrative work
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The Independent Online

A mega-merger of law firms based in the UK, United States, France and Canada that takes effect from Easter is the "biggest combination" in the industry's history, according to the group's global chairman.

Next weekend London and US-based SNR Denton join forces with Salans, a 35-year-old practice founded in Paris, and Canada's Fraser Milner Casgrain to create a law firm capable of winning work off the "magic circle" of most prestigious lawyers in the City.

SNR Denton's global chairman, Joe Andrew, pictured, will take on the same role at the new firm. He said: "We believe that this might well be the biggest combination on the day it goes effective on announcement. That's a pretty phenomenal statistic."

The rebranded Dentons will be a top 10 global law firm with close to 2,600 lawyers and professionals, up from just over 2,500 when the merger was approved by partners in November.

Mr Andrew, who is famous in the US as one of the youngest chairmen of the Democratic National Committee when Bill Clinton was president, said this net increase in lawyers was unusual in a merger situation.

Mr Andrew added: "There are bureaucratic issues, but people realise that with this deal they will be able to make more money.

"People realise that we have more to sell, that we are more concentrated with real presence."

He argued that lawyers had been slow to make global mergers when compared with other professional services industries, such as accountants, engineers, and advertisers.

The group will have different payment pools for its lawyers under what is known as the Swiss Verein model, but is to all intents and purposes a merger.

London Bridge-based Norton Rose has sealed a similarly structured deal with Houston-based Fulbright & Jaworski, which will be an even bigger combination with around 3,800 lawyers when it is formalised in June.

The legal market is changing as lawyers look to take on a more multinational structure to meet the needs of clients that operate in dozens of countries.

Natural resources have been a particular focus for both of these deals, though banking and finance is also likely to be a central plank of SNR Denton's growth as financial regulation evolves in the wake of the global economic crisis.

Dentons is also looking to beef up its operations in the growing markets of Asia and Latin America.

Many of its clients, which include the British government and Royal Bank of Scotland, want legal advice as they establish operations in these countries.

However, SNR Denton saw turnover fall to $710.5m (£469.1m) in 2012, when it had made $719.4m the previous year. Equity partners will still be happy, as they took home an average profit of $783,581 each, which was up 12 per cent on 2011.