Ashurst’s Australian tie-up includes option to split in event of US merger

Ashurst has option to walk away from Blakes tie-up as firm names new managing partner

Ashurst has the option of walking away from its deal with legacy Australian firm Blake Dawson if it agrees a tie-up with a US law firm before the planned merger with Blakes is approved, Legal Week has learned.

Terms of the tie-up, finalised in September last year, specify that during the two-year period between Blakes rebranding as Ashurst at the start of this month and the proposed merger between the two firms going live in 2014, Ashurst has the option of abandoning the Australian deal in preference of a US tie-up.

Ashurst’s partnership would simply have to vote against full financial integration in the second partnership vote on the merger, which is currently scheduled to take place in early 2014.

It is unclear what would happen to legacy Blakes, now operating as Ashurst Australia, in this instance, with some London partners speculating that it could revert to its former name or continue to operate as part of Ashurst but maintaining its own profit pool.

It is believed the union was structured in this manner as some Ashurst partners were concerned that a large domestic Australian offering could prejudice a US deal, which they believed to be more important to Ashurst.

Ashurst is known to have ambitions to secure a US merger, although it is not currently in any discussions, having previously held talks with Latham & Watkins and Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson in 2000 and 2003 respectively.

It is understood, however, that Ashurst is keen to secure any US tie-up with Blakes and that it has no plans to split from its new partner.

A former partner at the firm said: “There was a faction of partners within the firm that was firmly opposed to an Australian deal. As a result, [management] made sure that a deal with Blakes would not stand in the way of their ultimate goal to merge in the US.”

An Ashurst partner commented: “An ideal situation would see us entering into a US deal that would include [the legacy Blake Dawson] but we need to be realistic – some of the top New York players would view a large domestic practice in Australia as a deal-breaker.”

The news comes as Ashurst this week confirmed Paris-based banking partner James Collis as its new managing partner, following Simon Bromwich’s decision to step down from the role to lead the litigation practice.

Collis, who will relocate to London to take up the role in the new financial year (1 May), has had a key role in shaping the firm’s European banking strategy alongside banking chief Mark Vickers.

The firm has also created a new role for projects partner and longstanding board member Logan Mair, who will assume a position as client project and development partner.

Mair had been one of the individuals cited by partners as a likely candidate for the managing partner role.

For more, see: Ashurst hands managing partner role to Paris banking lawyer.