Lovells to enter global top 10 after securing Hogan merger vote

Lovells is to forge a transatlantic giant with US firm Hogan & Hartson after securing a partner vote backing the high-stakes merger.

The close of voting today (15 December) clears the way for the two firms to unite as Hogan Lovells from 1 May, creating a top 10 global practice with 2,500 lawyers and revenues of around $1.8bn (£1.1bn).

Lovells needed at least 75% support from its partners to back the deal, while Hogan required the backing of two thirds.

Lovells managing partner David Harris and Hogan chairman Warren Gorrell will take on the roles of co-chief executives until 2014. Lovells senior partner John Young is set to become co-chairman alongside Hogan corporate and project finance partner Claudette Christian.

The merger, which was exclusively revealed in October by Legal Week, is a rare example of a union of two large transatlantic firms of equal size and market position.

Commenting on the deal, Gorrell and Harris argued that the combined entity would represent a new kind of legal practice, marrying the global reach seen at magic circle firms with a broader practice coverage and a greater industry focus.

Aside from its banking and corporate practices, the combined firm will be strongly represented in regulatory, antitrust, intellectual property, real estate and litigation.

Gorrell told Legal Week: “We are putting together a new kind of firm – not a Washington or UK-based firm but truly a different kind of firm.”

“The proposition is unique – we will be able to attract new business going forward,” said Harris. “We will have scale and a profile that will be much more powerful.”

The deal will see the firms keep two operational centres, one in London and the other in Washington DC – rather than opting for a single base, with a total network of 40 offices with wide coverage in the US, Europe and Asia.

The firm will be structured as a US-based limited liability partnership (LLP) and a UK/international LLP, with a Swiss Verein acting as an umbrella body for firmwide governance and cost-sharing.

Though the model will see the firms maintaining two partnership entities and would block direct profit-sharing, the firms are set to align remuneration policies, with Lovells moving closer towards Hogan’s contribution-based model for partner pay.

This means 85% of profits for equity partners will be allocated on a points-based system, covering sustainable financial and non-financial contribution to the firm over a medium-term basis. The points allocations will be reviewed every two years.

There will be a 15% bonus pool designed to explicitly recognise short-term contribution over a 12-month period. The bonus pool, which will be awarded on the same criteria as the equity points, will be reviewed annually.

Hogan would retain its December year-end and cash accounting model, leaving the Lovells partnership with an April year-end and accrual accounting, which is standard in the UK.

Changes for Lovells partners are set to be phased in over a four-year period from May 2010, with the lockstep system in place for an interim two-year period as new equity points are decided. The one-year bonus pool could be allocated from the end of 2010-11.

Despite the upheaval to the UK firm’s partner remuneration model, Harris said that the exercise would not used to downsize its partnership, insisting the combined firm would be focused on growth.

International priorities for Hogan Lovells will include building up its international network in Asia and the Middle East, as well as securing a presence in the much-touted Latin America market. The firm will also be looking for growth at its 200-lawyer New York arm.

Despite the scale of the merger, Gorrell said that there appeared to be minimal problems with conflicts. He added: “We have found very few conflicts and none that seem insurmountable. We have got a lot of positive feedback [from clients].”

The deal, which has been well received by rivals on both sides of the Atlantic, will now be watched for evidence that it will encourage peer group firms to press ahead with US/UK deals.

Click here for more US reaction and coverage from the National Law Journal

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