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Thelen Reid & Priest and the U.K firm Masons are kicking off a joint venture today to help both firms compete against larger international firms for global construction and engineering clients. The new entity, Masons Thelen Reid, a U.K. limited partnership, is the vehicle the firms will use to manage international clients and lend lawyers from various practices at either firm to do work. Announced Thursday, the deal follows two years of negotiations, said Stephen O’Neal, a Thelen partner in San Francisco who heads the firm’s construction practice. The firms had to hammer out a corporate structure that would enable the lawyers to practice worldwide, O’Neal said. And management had to create a formula and procedures for recording billables and splitting the profits, he said. O’Neal will co-manage Masons Thelen Reid with Vincent Rowan, a Masons partner in London. Thelen and Masons have competed against each other and have worked side by side on projects in the past, O’Neal said. When the Chunnel linking England and France was built, for example, Thelen represented the owners, and Masons worked for the contractors, he said. “It occurred to us simultaneously that by combining the two largest practices in the world, we would have a group of resources in our particular practice areas that would be unique,” O’Neal said. The 427-lawyer Thelen has a significant practice when it comes to servicing companies that build and operate huge infrastructure projects, like bridges, airports and power plants. One of the firm’s largest clients is Bechtel Group Inc., which recently won a U.S. government contract to begin rebuilding Iraq. Masons is the go-to firm among similar companies in the United Kingdom and Europe, Rowan said. Linking up with Masons will enable Thelen lawyers to access the experience of Masons’ attorneys in international offices, Rowan said. The 400-lawyer Masons, which has about 200 lawyers that specialize in construction, has five offices in Great Britain, plus satellites in Ireland, Belgium, Hong Kong, Singapore and China, said a statement about the deal that the firms issued. Meanwhile, Masons lawyers will leverage Thelen’s New York financial markets practice, its tax expertise and the firm’s litigation and dispute resolution experience, Rowan said. Masons also was drawn to Thelen’s expertise with U.S. contracts and engineering standards, he said. “It’s a good marriage,” Rowan said. “There’s no other example of law firm teaming like this.” Despite the joint venture, the U.S. is off limits to Masons, Rowan added. The firm will not begin hunting for clients in the United States, and Thelen will not poach U.K. clients, he said. The joint venture will target clients in China, South America and the Middle East, Rowan said. Masons recently inked a deal with a Madrid firm that will help the joint venture maneuver in Spanish-speaking countries, Rowan said.

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