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Legal giant created by merger of firms

Published 02/10/2012

A new legal giant has emerged after London-based Herbert Smith, which has an office in Belfast, and Australian group Freehills formally started trading under the same banner.

Herbert Smith Freehills International is expected to be the dominant player in the fast-growing Asia-Pacific market in one of the biggest mergers the legal industry has seen in years. Executives at the UK part of the company hope the sheer scale of the combination will help it gatecrash the Magic Circle of elite lawyers that includes Slaughter and May and Clifford Chance.

It is understood the Solicitors Regulation Authority gave the go-ahead to the tie-up last month.

Based on 2010-11 figures, the combined turnover will be more than £820m and there will be 2,800 lawyers, of whom approaching 500 will be partners.

Few, if any, job losses are expected. Joint chief executives Gavin Bell of Freehills, and David Willis, who currently heads Herbert Smith, are working through aligning the payment pool structures of the two firms, as well as preparing office openings in South Korea and Germany.

After 18 months, the company will move to having a single chief executive.

Mr Bell, who has led Freehills since 2005, is widely anticipated to take over, although other candidates could emerge in a process to be overseen by a board.

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