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U.S. firms operating in London are increasingly willing to explore a U.K. merger, with nearly half now open to a tie-up; while the number looking to increase their headcount organically in the city has fallen. Legal sister publication Legal Week’s annual U.S. firms in London survey reveals that 47 percent of U.S. firms would be willing to consider a U.K. merger, up from 39 percent last year and 29 percent the year before. The survey of the top U.S. firms operating in the capital also records a fall in the percentage of firms looking to build their city practice over the coming 12 months, with 91 percent earmarking growth, compared with 96 percent in 2006. The findings provide one of the clearest indications yet that U.S. firms are increasingly looking to mergers to kickstart their growth in London. Among the firms open to the possibility of a merger are Dewey Ballantine, Morrison & Foerster and Paul Hastings Janofsky & Walker. Despite some hires from U.K. firms – such as Kirkland & Ellis’ raid on SJ Berwin for rated fund partners Mark Mifsud, Richard Watkins and Justin Dolling – U.S. firms have struggled to recruit and retain senior partners recently. A number of U.S. firms are now focusing some of their efforts on swelling their junior ranks by taking on city trainees for the first time. Firms including Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson and Kirkland are expecting to take on trainees for the first time soon, while Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, Covington & Burling and LeBoeuf Lamb Greene & MacRae are all increasing their intake. CMS Cameron McKenna managing partner Dick Tyler commented: “We have had more courtesy calls from U.S. firms in the last six to nine months than the last 18 put together. There is a critical strength you have to reach and realistically if you want to have a strong corporate practice, you need employment, pensions, etc. as support.” Abrahams Russell recruitment consultant Greg Abrahams said: “This is driven by London becoming arguably the leading financial centre in the world and the closing gap between U.K. and U.S. profitability. With the dollar/sterling exchange rate as it stands, there is more demand on the U.S. side for a merger than on the U.K. side.” This article originally appeared in Legal Week, a publication of Incisive Media, which owns ALM.

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