Norton Rose on agenda as US leader Fulbright reviews global strategy

Fulbright to consider UK tie-up in international strategy review

Fulbright & Jaworski has kicked off a review of its international strategy that could see the top 50 US firm pursuing a much-touted merger with Norton Rose.

The Texan firm’s global chairman Steven Pfeiffer (pictured) launched the review two months ago, with a prospective UK merger forming a central plank of the consultation.

A merger with Norton Rose is not thought to be the only option under consideration; however, the firm is the preferred target for a number of partners within Fulbright, which has not yet engaged Norton Rose in any discussions.

The two firms already have a non-exclusive referral relationship and their complementary practice strengths means a possible tie-up has long been discussed in the market.

The US firm focuses on areas including energy, healthcare, technology and transportation, while Norton Rose’s sector strategy is built around financial institutions, transport, energy, infrastructure, technology and life sciences, with both firms also housing strong transactional and disputes practices.

Having achieved mergers in Australia, Canada and South Africa in recent years, the US is the obvious gap in Norton Rose’s global ambitions.

For Fulbright it would offer the opportunity to significantly expand internationally. The AmLaw 100 firm has roughly 834 lawyers but only around 55 outside the US, where it has offices across London, Munich, Hong Kong, Beijing and Dubai as well as an 
association in Saudi Arabia.

One partner at Fulbright said: “The review was launched in the last couple of months. It would be looking at [merging with] Norton Rose and a number of other strategic options. It would be a good move because generally the geographic jigsaw fits together very well, as do the practice areas.”

Norton Rose chairman Stephen Parish said: “We have made no secret that we want to complete a US merger at some time. It is understandable that we are spoken of by Fulbright, but I expect that other firms would also be looking at us as we have proven that we are capable of putting together international mergers.”

A tie-up between Norton Rose Group and Fulbright would form a global firm with revenues of almost $2bn (£1.3bn) and close to 3,500 lawyers. Profits per equity partner for Fulbright in 2010 stood at $875,000 (£552,900) compared to around £466,600 for Norton Rose’s UK operations in the 2010-11 financial year.