Ashursts and Fried Frank in transatlantic merger bid

AshurstsAshurst Morris Crisp is in merger talks with leading New York firm Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson as the top 10 City firm makes a dramatic second bid to secure a transatlantic merger.

Ashursts sources have indicated that an initial partner vote on whether to proceed with the US merger could take place by the summer.

A merger would hand Ashursts the first true transatlantic merger of equals and put it ahead of all but Clifford Chance in terms of North American coverage, creating an international firm with annual income of around £400m.

Ashursts senior partner Geoffrey Green played down talk of a Fried Frank merger and stressed the City firm also works closely with New York’s Davis Polk & Wardwell and Kirkland & Ellis of Chicago.

However, one Ashursts partner told Legal Week: “The merger talks have not been going on for that long, but Ashursts is quite an open firm and every partner is aware of the situation.”

The firms are a comparable match financially, with Fried Frank posting 2001 revenues of $311m (£213m) and partner profits of $875,000 (£600,000), the same as Ashursts’ 2000-01 profits average.

Clients of the US firm, which has worked with Ashursts informally before on structured finance issues, include AirTouch Communications, Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch.

One Fried Frank partner told Legal Week the firm’s relationship with Ashursts was already “important” and that the firm would be “opportunistic” about a City merger. He added that the current downturn in corporate work in the US and Europe was giving management the time to think about long-term strategy.

Ashursts held abortive merger talks with Los Angeles-based Latham & Watkins in 2000, which both firms abandoned citing “cultural issues”.

A Fried Frank deal would be galling for Ashursts’ larger London rivals Linklaters and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, which have made no secret of their ambitions of securing a merger with a respected New York firm.