SJ Berwin partners press for resolution to Proskauer merger bid

SJ Berwin’s partners are putting pressure on management to draw transatlantic merger discussions with Proskauer Rose to a close, as the protracted discussions unsettle the partnership.

Partners at the UK top 20 law firm have expressed concern that no agreement has been reached despite the talks having been public for nine months.

Management members from both firms have continued to meet regularly; however, it is understood that there are still no concrete merger terms on the table, with some partners now questioning the compatibility of the two firms.

In particular, there are increasing concerns that differences in profitability would force Proskauer to put pressure on SJ Berwin to boost profits.

One SJ Berwin partner commented: “They would like us to be more profitable – and so would we – but the question is how to do that. We are more profitable than we have been for a while and don’t think that making cuts to grow our profits is a great strategy.”

SJ Berwin posted average profits per equity partner (PEP) in the 2009-10 financial year of £447,000, while revenue per lawyer (RPL) stood at £314,900. Proskauer Rose’s PEP for 2009 was $1.37m (£849,000) against an RPL figure of $915,000 (£567,000).

Proskauer has also requested clarification from SJ Berwin on the current state of its real estate practice after a 16-lawyer team, led by practice group head Jon Vivian, departed for Irwin Mitchell earlier this month. However, SJ Berwin has told the New York firm that, despite the departures, it has retained key relationships and is continuing to work with clients such as The Crown Estate.

SJ Berwin has appointed City partners Bryan Pickup and Simon Ricketts to jointly head the practice, with the latter replacing Vivian on the firm’s strategy committee.

Meanwhile, on the SJ Berwin side, questions remain over the compatibility of the two firms’ practices outside obvious synergies in corporate and funds.