Norton Rose Fulbright (Ivan Maslarov)
Norton Rose Fulbright and Chadbourne & Parke formalized their long-planned merger on June 30, signing paperwork to close the deal, said Peter Martyr, global chief executive of the combined firm.
But there is still work to be done, and some unresolved questions linger. The firm will now look to fill additional leadership positions in the upcoming weeks, try to close an Australian merger and aim to bolster business with legacy Chadbourne practices.
Meanwhile, the plaintiffs attorney litigating a $100 million sex discrimination and pay inequity lawsuit against Chadbourne said he intends to formally add Norton Rose Fulbright as a defendant.
Martyr brushed off reports that the merger had been frustrated by unanticipated delays, adding the most optimistic date was the beginning of the second quarter—but he had estimated it would close around this time.
Since the partners voted on the deal in the spring, Martyr said the firms had to go through many “nitty gritty” details, such as converting billing systems and integrating human resources departments.
Client conflicts did not delay the merger, he said. The firms ran an extensive conflict check early on and “it was very good,” he said. Martyr also said he wasn’t aware of any firm representations that had to discontinue due to the merger.
It’s true that some Chadbourne lawyers in foreign offices didn’t want to join the U.K. LLP, he said. “Obviously we made it open to everybody,” he said, but he maintained it was expected that some attorneys who are used to practicing in smaller offices, “where they do their own thing,” would leave the combined firm.
“We have to be realistic about that,” he said. “It comes down to personal preferences.”
In Australia, he said the firm is working through the nuts and bolts of its planned merger with Henry Davis York. He said he expected the deal to close in 2017, but declined to specify when.
In the United States, the West Coast “would be the most obvious place” for expansion, he said. However Martyr said the firm doesn’t have any merger or rapid expansion in the works, in the United States or globally.
“There’s nothing up our sleeve at the moment,” he said.
Norton Rose doesn’t have any particular size goals. “We’re not seeking to become 6,000, 8,000 or 10,000,” he said, adding there’s also no size constraint. “We would grow to whatever size we felt appropriate for our business,” he said.
“The theme is always the same,” he said, adding, any mergers are “connecting with our current business, deepening our bench strength.”
“This is a very ideal combination because we’ve been looking to get a bigger East Coast balance to the business” and add more finance capabilities, he said. For Chadbourne and its clients, “they get a massive global network to plug into, so it’s win-win,” he said.
With the merger complete, he said he expects business involving Mexico and Latin America to grow, due to the rapidly developing economies there as well as related financial transactions in New York and related litigation and arbitration in Texas.
Martyr pointed out key Chadbourne practices that are significant for Norton Rose Fulbright, including the project finance group, calling it a global practice, and its white-collar regulatory practice, which he said was “very important both inside and outside the U.S.”
Just in the last week it was confirmed that Chadbourne’s Abbe Lowell, a prominent white-collar lawyer, was added to the legal team of White House senior adviser Jared Kushner amid FBI and congressional investigations. “They’ve got some very good people, Abbe is one of them,” Martyr said.
Norton Rose Fulbright will announce in the upcoming weeks partners within the combined firm who will hold leadership positions in the United States and globally, he said.
Asked about any plans for staff or attorney layoffs, which routinely occur after firm mergers to eliminate redundant positions, he said, “there isn’t a plan for that” and “we’re not doing this to slim down.”
Meanwhile, the legacy Chadbourne firm continues to face a discrimination suit alleging it is run by an “all male dictatorship.” Earlier this month, a New York judge refused to dismiss the class and collective action claims brought by a former partner, Kerrie Campbell, and two other former Chadbourne partners.
Martyr declined to answer questions about the suit.
Now that Chadbourne’s merger is complete, plaintiffs’ attorney David Sanford, of Sanford Heisler Sharp, said June 30 that he’ll seek to file an amended complaint to add Norton Rose Fulbright to the complaint as a defendant and to add additional retaliation allegations involving Campbell.
If there are now different “decision makers” in place over the litigation, then there would be some prospects for a negotiated settlement, Sanford said.
Right now, the parties remain far apart from settling, he added.
“The merger is an opportunity to have a negotiated settlement, but again, it depends on who the decision makers are.”
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