'This isn’t the end of the journey': Eversheds eyes further US tie-ups after Sutherland merger

Bryan Hughes

Eversheds chief executive Bryan Hughes says the firm will target further US mergers following its tie-up with Atlanta’s Sutherland Asbill & Brennan.

Eversheds partners approved the deal last week, paving the way for the combination to go live on 1 February next year, but Hughes told Legal Week that the firm’s US expansion will not stop there.

“There are no doubts that Eversheds and Sutherlands will look together for other opportunities in the US. It is important to emphasise that this isn’t the end of the journey. While the tie-up is a transformational step for both parties, we want to see our platform develop,” said Hughes.

He added that the union – which will create a firm with access to 2,300 lawyers operating out of 61 offices worldwide – should make the combined firm “a more attractive entity” to potential US suitors “for a further combination”.

Roughly 1,900 of these lawyers come from Eversheds and its associated Eversheds International network, with Sutherland adding 400. Eversheds posted turnover of £405.5m in 2015-16, compared to Sutherland’s 2015 figure of $301m (£243m).

After Eversheds partners voted to pursue a US merger in 2014, the firm’s management met with a number of US firms after drawing up a shortlist of likely candidates.

In November, Legal Week reported that the firm had broken off early-stage talks with Foley & Lardner, a deal that would have created a larger firm than Eversheds Sutherland, with combined revenues of more than £800m.

“A platform in the US has been one of our key strategic objectives over the last couple of years,” commented Hughes. “Sutherland gives us that, but it is so much more than a flag on the map. It is a high quality firm with a good brand and a strong cultural fit.”

Both firms are in the process of meeting clients in the US and UK, said Hughes. “We have been getting people together in recent weeks, with Eversheds people travelling to the US and Sutherland people meeting us in the UK and in other parts of the world. This process, including meetings with clients, will continue into the new year.”

The firm is currently considering creating joint heads from both firms to run certain practices or sectors. To date, details are unconfirmed, although Hughes says areas where the pair has crossover – such as energy and defence – are likely departments for joint leadership. “There will be joint heads for certain sectors and practice areas where this is appropriate. The details on this will be announced when we go live in February.”

Going forward, Eversheds is also preparing for current managing partner Lee Ranson to take over Hughes’ role as chief executive from 1 May next year. Ranson, who has been the firm’s managing partner since 2009, was confirmed as the next CEO in October after standing unopposed to replace Hughes.

“There is obviously a transitional phase with Lee taking over on 1 May. Over the last few months the focus has been on putting the deal together, but over the coming weeks we are going to discuss how we will manage that transition.”

It is not yet known whether Hughes will remain at the firm and if he does, what role he will hold.

“I genuinely don’t know what I’ll be doing when I step down. The last few months have been particularly frenetic, with all of my focus on putting the deal together. However, things will be a little less hectic over the next few weeks, which will give me some time to reflect on my options.”