Clifford Chance has become the latest UK firm to make a foray into the Australian market, having announced mergers with two corporate boutiques: Perth firm Cochrane Lishman Carson Luscombe (CLCL) and Sydney outfit Chang Pistilli & Simmons (CPS).

The move isn't surprising - CC has been eyeing up potential Aussie partners for a while and it was generally thought only to be a matter of time before it followed UK rivals Allen & Overy, Norton Rose and DLA Piper into Australia. But the identity of that potential partner has been hotly debated. Last July CC was linked with Mallesons, a firm of over 180 partners, but the courtship foundered as the downturn deepened. Latterly the UK firm was thought tohave been wooing 54-partner firm Gilbert + Tobin.

But now it's emerged that CC will be hooking up with small corporate boutiques CLCL (set up by ex- Malleys partners) and CPS (formed slightly controversially by ex-Atanaskovic Hartnell partners) with each firm boasting just 7 partners a piece. Discussions between the three firms had started last year, before temporarily stalling. The dual merger will become official on 1 May 2011, when CLCL and CPS will adopt the CC name and become financially integrated with the firm's empire.

    CLCL and CPS partners celebrating the merger yesterday

So, it's quite a different merger than that which was widely predicted - i.e. a tie-up between the UK firm and a big national player. And CC is quite open about this. Managing Partner David Childs admitted that his firm would "not compete head on with national firms" but would "concentrate on high-end M&A work" as well as litigation. The firm is eager to bill this merger as unique, perhaps with an eye on deflecting suggestions that it's just another UK firm desperately hoping to compete in a tough market already saturated by lawyers.

However the merger pans out, CLCL's Michael Lishman is certainly excited about it: "For an old guy like me this is an exciting opportunity......It gives me another reason to get out of bed in the morning". Steady on, there.

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