Dechert Price To Merge With Longtime London Affiliate Phila. Will Have The New Firm's Main Office. Transatlantic Mergers Are Rare, Even In An Era Of Law-firm Consolidation.

Posted: June 27, 2000

After a six-year engagement, Center City law firm Dechert, Price & Rhoads said yesterday it would tie the knot and merge with a London law firm, Titmuss Sainer Dechert.

The combined firm, to be called Dechert, will have 580 lawyers - 450 of them from the American firm - in 10 offices in the United States and Europe. Dechert Price chairman Barton J. Winokur, who announced the deal and will be the combined firm's chairman, said the main office would be in Philadelphia.

The merger, effective July 1, expands a six-year affiliation between the two firms, which included joint partnerships and shared operations in London and throughout Europe. Most importantly, it gives Dechert Price - a litigation, corporate-practice and intellectual-property firm - a beachhead in Europe's financial capital, Winokur said.

"London is the financial center of Europe, and the London legal market is the most important legal market in Europe," Winokur said in an interview yesterday. "What you'll see is that the London-based firms have the biggest positions and transactions in Europe."

In addition to London and Philadelphia, Dechert Price has offices in Paris, Brussels, New York, Princeton, Washington, Harrisburg and Boston.

Steven Fogel, Titmuss Sainer's senior partner, said the merger would allow clients in Harrisburg to use the same law firm more easily for business in both the United States and Europe.

"We estimated that, as the economy became more global, there would be more of a demand for law firms that are able to provide seamless service," Fogel said in an interview. "That's why we developed a closer relationship than was ordinary, with a view that [the relationship] would lead to merging."

Fogel will become the managing partner of the combined firm's London office.

Winokur said Dechert Price's international clients include Comcast Corp., the Philadelphia cable operator, and Internet Capital Group Inc., the business-to-business e-commerce investor based in Wayne.

Titmuss Sainer's clients include a host of British technology companies, as well as Standard & Poor's Corp., the financial services company. Among the two firms' shared clients is Lehman Bros., the New York investment-banking firm.

The merger comes at a time of significant consolidation in the legal field, said Robert Denney, president of Robert Denney Associates, a Wayne consultant to law firms.

For example, the Center City firms of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis and Mesirov Gelman Jaffe Cramer & Jamieson completed their merger Friday, said Ralph G. Wellington, Schnader's chairman.

Law firms "want to be larger to have more areas of expertise and more financial resources or to enter a new geographic area," Denney said, adding that combining firms also helped save on administrative costs, which have been rising.

But the Dechert deal is just the second transatlantic merger he could recall. The British firm of Clifford Chance merged this year with the New York firm of Rogers and Wells.

Other British and American firms began discussing mergers following the Rogers and Wells deal, but the talks broke down because the parties could not reconcile cultural differences, Denney said. In the Dechert merger, he credited the six-year alliance with allowing the two firms the time necessary to adjust to each other.

"They've been engaged, in a sense, for a number of years," he said. "It seems to me that [the merger] is the next logical step if they are indeed satisfied with the working relationship and cultural relationship which they've already had."

Based on figures from last year, the combined firm will have annual revenues of more than $250 million, with 80 percent of that from Dechert Price. Winokur said there would be no layoffs resulting from the merger. Also, Fogel said, current regional managing partners will retain their titles.

Benjamin Y. Lowe's email address is blowe@phillynews.com

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