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There are two reasons, each dispositive in its own right, that an elite transatlantic law firm merger isn’t going to happen: the elite US firms have sufficient presence in London not to want one, and the UK firms have insufficient profitability to afford one. Might a UK firm merge with a US player below the elite? Possibly, but the practice synergy is much weaker, and the viable US firms would not have the prestige to be compelling to the elite UK firm’s partners. If this latter didn’t scuttle the combination, it would sabotage the integration.

Let’s start with the U.S. elite. To define this group, we looked at the firms with Band 1 Chambers USA Nationwide rankings in either of corporate law’s two most prestigious practices: corporate/M&A and capital markets. This identified the eight firms shown in Table 1; the table also shows these firms’ UK rankings for the comparable practices. Six of the eight firms have ranked practices in the UK. For these, merging with a UK firm is a less compelling way to bolster these practices than is organic growth and lateral acquisition. The two US firms that don’t have a ranked London presence, Cravath and Wachtell, are unlikely to want a London merger partner. As high-end specialists, their business models require they be independent of any one London firm so that they can act as US counsel on mega matters to a myriad of London firms. Hence, there’s no compelling logic for an elite US firm to find a London merger partner.

If we define the UK elite in an analogous manner, i.e. firms with Band 1 Chambers UK rankings for the same two practice areas (allowing that, unlike in the US, London capital markets rankings are in separate debt and equity components), we get the four firms shown, along with their US rankings, at the bottom of Table 1. Unlike their US counterparts, these firms do not have ranked US practices (after many years of trying for some).

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