Bryan Cave Strikes International Merger with U.K. Law Firm BLP

Bryan Cave LLP is expanding, merging with U.K. law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner LLP (BLP), to form one of the 50 largest law firms in the world, with 1,600-lawyers and combined revenues exceeding $900 million.

The transatlantic combination will be led by two women—an apparent first in the world of Big Law—Therese Pritchard and Lisa Mayhew, who will be the combined firm’s co-chairs.

The firm, to be called Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP, will blend the offerings of two major firms that had complementary practice areas, and finances, the firms said. The combined entity will have a major global mergers and acquisitions practice and a real estate practice with, it says, the fourth largest number of practicing attorneys globally. In addition, the new firm will combine their international financial services practices, and international litigation and corporate risk practices.

The two firms voted today in favor of the merger, which will be take place officially in early April—although no definite date was given.

The firm underscored that it will be, somewhat unusually for transatlantic mergers, fully financially integrated, which means the two firms’ accounting, compensation, and taxation schemes have been harmonized.

Bryan Cave was founded in St. Louis, and BLP in London. Global firms often opt to operate as federations, with separate regional profit pools and accounting, to avoid financial complexities, but Pritchard said the firms had teams of lawyers and advice from big four accounting firm Deloitte, which worked to resolve such complexities.

“We had our first phone call on the merger a year ago this month,” Pritchard, who became chair of Bryan Cave in 2014, said in a telephone interview, “and it has been a slowly evolving discussion with Lisa. Both of our firms have been interested in expanding the breadth and depth of our operations.”

“And culturally, it was a good fit because both firms develop deep relationships with clients and focus on finding the best lawyer in the firm for that client’s legal needs,” she said.

Together the new firm has nearly 200 Fortune 500 clients, as well as more than half of the world’s largest banks, including Bank of America and Wells Fargo, by revenue. The firm won a notable 2010 verdict for its client Merck in a trial that challenged the drug maker’s blockbuster drug Fosamax. The jury rejected a $7 million claim on grounds the bone-strengthening drug caused jaw bone decay.

Going forward, Pritchard said the firm’s single profit pool will underscore firm collaboration. The merger was made easier because both Bryan Cave and BLP each had just under $1 million in profits per partner so no partners had to have their compensation adjusted upwards or downwards to fit into a new pay scheme.

Bryan Cave has about 900 lawyers in 25 offices in North America, Europe and Asia. BLP, with about 600 lawyers, has 14 offices across the world.

Pritchard said the merged firm will focus on bringing the firm’s expertise together regardless of geography but noted that there will be significant travel by the two of them to make sure the firm is run as a combined entity.

“We will not be dividing up the world,” Pritchard said, “There will be a lot of commuting. Lisa and I have joked that she will be spending a lot more time in the United States, and I will be traveling as well. But we have a management team and we will be overseeing it as a whole.”

Whether supervision breaks down by practice area has yet to be determined, she said. Bryan Cave, founded in 1873, is known for its mergers and acquisitions and litigation strengths, and BLP, whose clients include U.S.-based companies as well U.S.-headquartered companies in Europe and elsewhere, comes to the relationship with major real estate and financial services practices.

Kent Zimmermann, a principal with legal consultancy Zeughauser Group, who has advised Bryan Cave on its growth strategy but didn’t arrange the BLP merger, said the combination “means the firm will have M&A practice by volume, and one of the largest real estate practices. It will also open the firm to further international growth into continental Europe, Asia and Russia.”

The firm declined to comment about any personnel changes, other than the two co-chairs, in connection with the merger and emphasized that combination is aimed at offering a broader suite of services, not on cost savings. The new firm will have 32 offices in 11 countries.

Law firms have become increasingly international in focus, in order to offer comprehensive global legal services across borders as corporate clients face multi-country regulatory issues, such as challenges to mergers. While law firms appear to be in a consolidation mode—2017 was a record year for such combinations—it is not always a swift and easy matter. Bryan Cave has had several earlier consolidations, including most recently, the 2012 combination with Denver-based Holme Roberts & Owen, but several efforts have fallen flat. That includes 2015 talks with Washington-based Dickstein Shapiro, which, instead combined with Blank Rome.

Another reason the deal made sense, Pritchard said, is each firm’s interest and investment in new legal technology. Bryan Cave has a law firm division called BCXponent, which advises corporate law departments on data analytics and technology to reduce the cost and risk of litigation.

In London, BLP has been an early adopter in the alternative legal services, founding, in 2007, a service employing lawyers for temporary legal work. Its Lawyers on Demand service has some 600 lawyers available for hire for legal matters. The firm also offers managed legal services and other technology tools to streamline legal matters.

In London, Mayhew, whose title has been BLP’s managing partner, said, in a statement, “Our combination is rooted in a shared determination to do something fresh and different for clients.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Elizabeth Olson at egolson1@gmail.com.

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Casey Sullivan at cSullivan@bloomberglaw.com and Tom Taylor at ttaylor@bloomberglaw.com.