The so-called ‘Magic Circle’ firms have made no secret of the fact that they need a greater U.S. presence to be truly global.

“But in the absence of a merger, that’s a very laborious, long and expensive process,” said one former Clifford Chance partner. But, by announcing a proposed combination with Shearman & Sterling, Allen & Overy has done just that and slingshotted itself to the “front of the pack”, as an ex-Shearman lawyer put it.