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The difficulties the largest British law firms have encountered in New York are well known. But the problems facing their biggest rival from across the English Channel may be even greater. Paris-based Salans stole a march on the London firms when it sealed the first major trans-Atlantic merger with New York’s 70-lawyer Christy & Viener in 1998, the year before Clifford Chance pulled off its combination with Rogers & Wells. But seven years later, only a handful of Christy & Viener lawyers remain and Salans’ New York head count is down to 37 lawyers from a high of 89 in 2002. Of the 30 partners in the office in 2003, almost two-thirds have since left for other firms. New York currently accounts for less than 10% of Salans’ worldwide roster of around 400 lawyers in 14 offices. “The New York office has been the biggest challenge for the firm over the last few years,” Stephen Finch, Salans’ London-based chairman, acknowledged in an e-mail interview. Time to rebuild Departures in the last year have included New York corporate practice head Laurence Markowitz, who joined Baker & Hostetler in July; private equity partner Todd Peterson, who joined Nixon Peabody; tax partner John Settineri and trusts and estates head C. Michael Spero, who both joined Los Angeles-based Loeb & Loeb. Last month, derivatives practice head Ellen Clark left Salans to join DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary. Finch said the firm is now seeking to rebuild its New York presence through another merger, preferably with a firm with both a New York and Washington presence. He declined to say which firms, if any, Salans has had merger discussions with. Finch said the firm also is seeking lateral growth in its U.S. mergers and acquisitions, litigation, banking and real estate practices. Of the partners who have left, Finch said the firm was “sorry to have lost a number of the New York partners and wished they had shown the patience to work with us to achieve the same success and appropriate critical mass in the [United States] as we have achieved in other countries.” But many of those partners say they had been patient. They say it is Salans that has failed in its commitment to New York, even after seven years there. Salans’ U.S. woes bear some resemblance to those experienced by Clifford Chance in recent years. Ex-Salans partners in New York point to incompatible practices, culture differences and a lack of support in Europe as reasons for the exodus.

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