Global offshore – Stick or twist for the sector’s leaders

Global offshore – Stick or twist for the sector’s leaders

On paper at least, history will show that 2019 was a very good year. Encouraged by sustained low interest rates, declining trade policy uncertainty and diminished fears of an economic slowdown, US stock markets led the way: the S&P 500 ended the year up 28% and the Nasdaq 35%. Meanwhile, the Europe-wide STOXX 600 increased by 23% and the FTSE 100 by a more modest 12%.

But on the ground, things seemed a little different for many offshore law firms. ‘Even by recent standards, 2019 was an extraordinary year in geopolitical and macro-economic terms: US-China trade wars, Brexit uncertainty, volatility in the US dollar/GBP exchange rate, tension in Hong Kong and the growing risk of a global economic downturn,’ says Jonathan Rigby, global managing partner of Mourant. Continue reading “Global offshore – Stick or twist for the sector’s leaders”

The Italian report – Midway upon the journey of our life

The Italian report – Midway upon the journey of our life

Visiting Milan at the end of 2019, it was striking that a map of law firms’ office addresses drawn up just the year before was no longer reliable: too many had moved, taken up larger premises… or no longer existed.

Finding our way to meetings with 20 partners at domestic and international firms, an unusual buzzword was emerging: consolidation. ‘There are too many Italian firms and there is not space for everyone, so they need to consolidate,’ argues one Milan-based partner of a foreign firm. Continue reading “The Italian report – Midway upon the journey of our life”

Turkey – Back from the brink

Turkey – Back from the brink

A century on from Atatürk’s proclamation that the republic would be ‘happy, prosperous and victorious’, the founder of modern Turkey would today find his vision being questioned. In 2016, a failed coup left over 300 people dead. During the mass detentions that followed, nearly 2,500 judges were arrested. Within two years, Turkey’s credit bubble had burst: the lira halved in value against the US dollar, inflation hit 25% and GDP, which had been growing at 7%, flatlined.

Following the withdrawal of US troops in October 2019, the invasion of northeast Syria to create a safe zone along Turkey’s southern border led US President Donald Trump to tweet: ‘I will totally destroy and obliterate the economy of Turkey.’ In October, the House of Representatives voted by 403 to 16 to impose a series of sweeping sanctions on Turkey. But US politicians remain split, with senate majority leader Mitch McConnell warning that sanctions would cause economic damage and alienate the Turkish people. Continue reading “Turkey – Back from the brink”

Africa rising – Foreign firms strive to cover the booming continent

Africa rising – Foreign firms strive to cover the booming continent

Joe Andrew, the architect of Dentons’ global strategy, is not known for pulling his punches. As such, his stance on staffing the African practices of international law firms is typical: ‘Why would you look to Europe or the US? It’s parochial, it’s a residue of colonialism, and it borders on racism.’

The firm’s chair warms to his theme. ‘There are 54 countries on the continent, and to different degrees they’re all experiencing an incredible democratisation of information. There’s talent everywhere. We don’t agree with our competitors who believe that the best way to service clients is to hire people from Europe.’ Continue reading “Africa rising – Foreign firms strive to cover the booming continent”

Israel: Anti-fragile

Israel: Anti-fragile

Thriving in the face of adversity as politics and security play an integral part in everyday life is a default position for Israel. The data backs this up: recent OECD reports describe Israel as stable with strong economic growth: annual GDP has consistently risen by three to four percent over recent years to reach nearly $400bn in 2019. This, despite a protracted leadership battle taking place with two general elections in six months bringing the nation no closer to a conclusive result.

Michael Barnea, managing partner of Barnea, Jaffa, Lande & Co, develops the point: ‘The environment is surprisingly robust considering the political instability that we’ve experienced for a considerable time. Investment, both from overseas into Israel and in the local market, is extremely strong and gives every appearance of being confident in the future.’ Continue reading “Israel: Anti-fragile”

Offshore: Deal or no deal?

Offshore: Deal or no deal?

Protracted arguments over Brexit have led a divided Britain to the point of exhaustion. In the months leading up to the June 2016 referendum, offshore firms were concerned about the potential impact of a ‘Yes’ vote – although perhaps less so than some of their onshore counterparts. Even before the financial crisis, there had been a continued diversification by larger firms in the major offshore jurisdictions away from a reliance on the UK economy.

Since the referendum, offshore firms in the British Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories have been dealing with the problems of continued uncertainty that Brexit has created for their clients and advising them in relation to investment opportunities that may arise once it is eventually resolved. Continue reading “Offshore: Deal or no deal?”

Offshore: The unsilent majority

Offshore: The unsilent majority

Among Asia’s competing financial centres, Hong Kong is the essential place to be for leading offshore law firms. Collectively, their local offices have grown significantly over the past few years to around 300 lawyers, making Hong Kong the third most-heavily lawyered jurisdiction by offshore firms after the Cayman Islands and Jersey.

But in early June, the first visible signs emerged of real discontent with Beijing’s increasing threat to Hong Kong’s freedoms: around 3,000 lawyers took part in a silent protest march in opposition to a government bill that would amend the city’s extradition law – the largest-ever protest by lawyers in history. They argued vehemently that the proposed amendment would allow Hong Kong to handle extradition requests from jurisdictions with no prior agreements, most notably China, and would strike a blow to the rule of law. Since that peaceful march, Hong Kong has deteriorated to become a city in crisis. Several months of much larger pro-democracy protests by millions of its citizens have provoked widespread violence and a sustained fall in business activity. Continue reading “Offshore: The unsilent majority”

Ireland: Follow the money

Ireland: Follow the money

Since it exited from an emergency bailout from the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and began its rapid recovery, Ireland has enjoyed star-performer status in Europe. Ireland’s GDP grew by 6.7% in 2018, making it the region’s fastest-growing economy for the fifth consecutive year. Simultaneously, according to the EY Attractiveness Survey Europe, foreign direct investment (FDI) in Ireland has been reborn, leaping a remarkable 52% compared to 2017 while the EU suffered an overall decline.

Of the 265 new investment projects announced in Ireland last year, 134 featured first-time investors – the highest total in a single year, according to IDA Ireland. ‘The challenge now,’ says the IDA, ‘is to make sure the FDI portfolio grows further’. This is some challenge given the headwinds of Brexit and a broader economic slowdown. Although such external factors may ultimately derail their ambitions, Irish law firms have been making good while they can. Continue reading “Ireland: Follow the money”

Letter from Iberia – Despite turbulent politics, Madrid lawyers sustain bullish mood

Letter from Iberia – Despite turbulent politics, Madrid lawyers sustain bullish mood

In spring 2018, Legal Business found the Madrid legal elite still recovering from a jolt that unsettled the local establishment. As one of the best-regarded deal makers in Spain, Juan Picón had at the end of 2017 given up his role as DLA Piper senior partner to join Latham & Watkins as Madrid head and Latin America co-chair.

Off the back of three consecutive years of GDP growth above 3% and mounting interest from international investors, Spain had been moving back onto the radar of leading international firms – the list of those stepping up investment in the country going well beyond the US giant to range as wide as Allen & Overy (A&O) to Fieldfisher. Some believed signs of renewed investment would shake up the staid local talent market and bring fresh challenges to the elite independents – Uría Menéndez, Garrigues and Cuatrecasas. Continue reading “Letter from Iberia – Despite turbulent politics, Madrid lawyers sustain bullish mood”

The Middle East: The rough with the crude

The Middle East: The rough with the crude

The global economy is slowing and so too is the Middle East. In April, the International Monetary Fund (IMF)almost halved this year’s growth forecast for the MENA region to 1.3%, from its previous estimate of 2.5% in October 2018. Dragging everything down is the oil sector – particularly in Saudi Arabia – US sanctions in Iran, and geopolitical tensions in other economies such as Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

But such downgrades are no surprise for lawyers in the region. ‘There is no doubt the region is going through a downturn,’ says Richard Gimblett, resident managing partner of the Dubai arm of Holman Fenwick Willan (HFW), which has more than 50 lawyers across its offices in Riyadh, Dubai, Kuwait City and Abu Dhabi. ‘The volatile price of oil obviously hasn’t helped. These are still largely petro-economies, although they are trying to diversify.’ Continue reading “The Middle East: The rough with the crude”