Allen & Overy’s leadership could face an uphill battle to convince London partners of the merits of the proposed merger with O’Melveny & Myers, according to sources close to the discussions.
The American Lawyer and its London-based sibling publication Legal Week reported last week that Allen & Overy is discussing a tie-up with the Los Angeles-based firm. But multiple partners have since told Legal Week of reservations among Allen & Overy’s London-based ranks.
Although Allen & Overy partners were informed at the start of the year that the firm was talking about a potential U.S. tie-up, no names had been presented to partners before last Friday. News of discussions with O’Melveny surprised many, with one source describing the initial reaction in some quarters as “quite violent.”
One Allen & Overy partner told Legal Week that most of the firm’s London office are “dead against” the proposed merger, while another senior partner who recently left the firm said that “lots of people in London do not want this.”
Given O’Melveny’s strong focus on litigation and entertainment, sources say partners in Allen & Overy’s flagship banking and finance practice and those in other transactional teams have particular concerns, with questions raised about the strategic logic behind the talks.
Two sources have told Legal Week that Allen & Overy’s management has acknowledged that an O’Melveny merger would leave more work to do to attain the presence it desires in the U.S.
One former Allen & Overy London partner said the discussions are being sold as more of a disputes than corporate play. ”[Management] have said they would then have to build up more in corporate and M&A in the U.S.,” the former partner said.
Another current partner described the proposed deal as “a first step,” adding that the second step would be to focus on building the firm’s corporate and debt capabilities in the U.S.
Although details of the talks have so far been contained to only a small number of senior figures, partners are expecting to hear more details in the coming weeks and at Allen & Overy’s partner conference in Miami in June.
Others are more pragmatic about the reaction to the talks, with one ex-partner saying “there are some mixed feelings within A&O. It’s not surprising that some people are excited and some are pessimistic.”
While a vote on the deal is not expected soon, management will have to push the rationale behind the merger to convince skeptical partners in core departments.
“There are mergers that partners reject,” one ex-partner said. “Just because people at the top think this is great doesn’t mean the partnership will as well.”