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Thelen Reid Brown Raysman & Steiner and U.K. law firm Pinsent Masons are taking the wrecking ball to the global construction law joint venture they built in 2003. The firms announced Friday that they’re reconstructing their relationship into a less firmly cemented “best friends” bond, and said they will work together on a wider assortment of legal matters. Stephen O’Neal, Thelen’s co-chairman, cast the change in a positive light. “We achieved the branding goal,” O’Neal said. “We have firmly established between the two of us � the go-to shops for construction law.” The joint venture, Masons Thelen Reid, was launched with great fanfare four years ago. Both firms crowed that the U.K. limited liability partnership would pool resources, manage international clients and target new ones. The affiliation was profitable from nearly the beginning, since it allowed the two firms to handle matters they couldn’t have taken on alone, O’Neal said. But the firms realized they could now “accomplish the same thing without the overhead” of accounting, insurance and other costs incurred from maintaining a separate legal entity, he said. (Although the firms will be cutting overhead, no one will be laid off as a result, O’Neal said.) Profits from the joint venture were shared by the two firms. Now, each firm will bill for the time it spends on shared matters, O’Neal said. Since Masons Thelen Reid was formed, both firms also have gone through mergers: Thelen with New York’s Brown Raysman Millstein Felder & Steiner last year and Masons with U.K. firm Pinsents in 2004. O’Neal said the changes caused them to reflect on the relationship.
Thelen, which now has more than 600 lawyers, also opened offices in London and Shanghai last year, giving the firm some global positioning of its own.

“Masons merged with Pinsents and has a broader focus � they have over 1,000 lawyers � than Masons,” he said. “And Thelen Reid & Priest has merged with Brown Raysman and has a broader focus.” Thelen, which now has more than 600 lawyers, also opened offices in London and Shanghai last year, giving the firm some global positioning of its own. Joint ventures can be a good way to crack a market and promote the law firm’s name, said Thomas Kellerman, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius’ Silicon Valley managing partner. Kellerman was the managing partner of Brobeck Hale & Dorr, a European collaboration between San Francisco’s Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison and Boston’s Hale and Dorr that lasted for more than a decade. His current firm, Morgan, Lewis, also has a joint venture with a Japanese firm, TMI. “I think usually in these things, for big law firms, the economics as a percentage of the total economic activity of the firm is not a huge deal,” Kellerman said. “But from a branding perspective, the joint venture, like with Morgan, Lewis and TMI, helps get the name in a lot of places it wouldn’t have been before.” At least one Thelen competitor said razing the joint venture won’t make much of a difference for Thelen. “I don’t think it’s going to have any particular effect,” said Robert Peckar, founding partner of New Jersey-based construction law firm Peckar & Abramson. “They’re still a player in the international market.” Peckar said his firm has considered joint ventures, but the plans never made it off the drawing board because of the difficulties with taxes, conflicts and other issues. The firm does have a best-friends relationship with U.K. construction law firm Fenwick Elliott, he said. “We do some things together and we do some things separate, and my guess is that is exactly what Thelen is going to do,” he said.

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