Paris, France.
Paris, France. (Photo: LP2 Studio/Shutterstock.com)

Almost exactly a year after establishing its first presence outside the Americas with a German merger, Littler Mendelson has expanded its European footprint by combining with 170-lawyer French firm Fromont Briens.

Littler global practice leader Peter Susser said the deal, which follows the firm’s combination with German boutique firm Vangard last October, represents the “ideal next step in our continued global expansion.”

The addition of Fromont’s offices in Paris and Lyon means Littler now has more than 1,000 lawyers in 77 offices across 35 U.S. states and 16 countries outside North America, making it comfortably the world’s largest labor and employment practice.

The French practice will operate as part of Littler’s international verein, which it established in 2013 to facilitate its combinations with Costa Rica-based BDS and Colombia’s Godoy Córdoba Abogados. All of the firm’s international offices are members of its verein, apart from its bases in Canada, Mexico and Venezuela, which form part of its U.S. partnership.

A Swiss verein is a holding structure that allows member firms to retain their existing forms. It has been used by the majority of recent international law firm combinations, including DLA Piper, Dentons, Hogan Lovells, King & Wood Mallesons, Norton Rose Fulbright and Squire Patton Boggs. Baker & McKenzie is also structured as a verein.

Jeremy Roth

Littler co-managing director Jeremy Roth told Law.com that its latest combination is the result of six months of “detailed discussions” between the two firms. The pair had been in regular contact since Fromont partners visited Littler’s executive employer conference in Phoenix in May 2015, he said.

Fromont is one of Europe’s largest independent labor firms and advises companies on issues such as individual and collective labor relations, business restructurings, employee benefits and compensation policies, employee retirement and savings plans, and social security and pensions. The firm, which was established in 1993, also conducts compliance audits, due diligence reviews and client training seminars.

Fromont managing partners Guillaume Desmoulin and Sophie Pelicier-Loevenbruck will continue to lead the practice following the tie-up, while a yet-to-be-identified French partner will also join Littler’s global board.

Roth said that Littler’s combination with Vangard and its hiring in June of Stephan Swinkels, the former executive director of labor law firm alliance L&E Global, has been a “game changer” for the firm’s international expansion. “It has jump-started a lot of our activity,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of firms reaching out to us and asking what we’re doing next.”

Argentina and Chile remain at the top of Littler’s agenda, with the firm “actively looking” at both markets in order to “round out” its already extensive network of offices in Latin America presence, Roth said. Littler is also keen to grow in Canada, having established a Toronto outpost in August 2015 with the hire of seven lawyers—including four partners—from Cassels Brock & Blackwell and local boutique Kuretzky Vassos Henderson. The firm has also been developing relationships with local practices in South Korea, which Roth said has a “huge connection” with Columbia, Mexico and Panama, where Littler has offices. Littler establishing its own office in South Korea is “not on the near-term horizon,” however.

Further expansion in Europe would be “opportunity-driven,” Roth said. “It has become clear that we need additional resources to help galvanize our offering, but it’s driven as much by finding the right people as identifying the right market.”

Roth said he finds the U.K. market “very interesting” and thinks the country’s decision to leave the European Union creates opportunity for labor lawyers. “Brexit means it is ultimately more complex [for companies] to operate across borders and that calls for lawyers to provide some definition,” he said. “There is so much uncertainty that nobody really knows what it means, but if you construct a border, it creates complexity and lawyers love complexity.”