Legal leaders in Africa: Waking the elephant

Legal leaders in Africa: Waking the elephant

Encapsulated in the 1982 hit song by US soft rock band Toto, Africa is frequently referred to in hoary metaphors in the West. However, in a business context, tired clichés of a ‘scramble for Africa’ have made way for the less-frenetic tones of international law firms committed to proven, revenue-generating strategies. Nonetheless, the continent still attracts its fair share of figurative language. ‘The elephant is waking up,’ as one partner puts it. But if Africa is an elephant, some firms are eager not to get caught under its feet.

‘We have consciously decided not to plant a flag in one or two jurisdictions in Africa,’ says Shawn der Kinderen, co-head of the Africa group at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer. ‘It doesn’t enable us to do the work our clients expect us to do in cross-border transactions.’ Continue reading “Legal leaders in Africa: Waking the elephant”

Offshore disputes: Centre of the cyclone

Offshore disputes: Centre of the cyclone

The inferno of disputes arising from the financial crisis is finally being reduced to embers. Although this may have caused the volume of commercial litigation in London to plateau, disputes in the main Caribbean offshore centres continue to be very buoyant: several firms report significant double-digit revenue growth in their dispute resolution teams over the past 12 months.

Driven by different dynamics, the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands (BVI) and Bermuda have each developed in their own right as sophisticated jurisdictions in which to litigate – supplemented by the expansion of specialist commercial courts, a raft of high-quality judges and a regular flow of top-drawer London silks to argue significant cases. Continue reading “Offshore disputes: Centre of the cyclone”

Offshore disputes: Big fish, small pond

Offshore disputes: Big fish, small pond

Carlyle, Tchenguiz and Crociani are cases repeatedly cited by the leading players in Jersey and Guernsey as shorthand for big disputes and big fees. These cases just keep on giving: all three are now subject to further appeals or related proceedings, prolonging their life in litigation terms. Elsewhere, the mood among local dispute resolution and insolvency lawyers is generally upbeat. Although less high-profile litigation might not deliver the big headlines, there is enough going on below the radar for revenues to remain healthy.

‘Insolvency-related disputes are still a significant source of work globally,’ says Jeremy Wessels, Mourant’s head of litigation and dispute resolution. ‘Other areas where we have seen increased activity include trust-related litigation, regulatory, debt restructuring, cross-border enforcement and go-private transactions.’ Mourant remains the biggest Channel Islands firm for disputes with 25 lawyers in Jersey (five partners and 20 other fee-earners) and 23 (six and 17 respectively) in Guernsey. Continue reading “Offshore disputes: Big fish, small pond”

Ireland: A case to make

Ireland: A case to make

Centuries of imperiousness towards the Irish could be one of England’s greatest historical mistakes, and when Legal Business set about asking Irish independents whether Dublin is a viable alternative to London for disputes work following Brexit, it felt as though this underestimation was very much alive today. However, the Irish legal elite remains defiant in the face of any English condescension.

‘Absolutely it’s viable,’ says Dillon Eustace’s managing partner Mark Thorne when asked if the Irish Bar’s initiative to promote Dublin as a global disputes centre was realistic. ‘You’re asking if the big independent firms have the talent to achieve that, and the answer is yes, absolutely.’ Continue reading “Ireland: A case to make”

Middle East: Mission unaccomplished

Middle East: Mission unaccomplished

‘The Middle East. We will try to make it better, but it is a troubled place’: the words of Donald Trump as he announced the recent military strikes targeting Syrian president Bashar Assad’s chemical weapons facilities. Although there is some truth to his sweeping statement, most of the over 400 million citizens in the 17 countries that comprise the Middle East region beg to differ. While the World Bank estimates that GDP growth in the region slowed from 5% in 2016 to 1.8% in 2017 – fuelled by oil production cuts and geopolitical tensions – this is projected to rebound to 3% in 2018 and 3.2% the following year.

The region’s lawyers point to the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) economies as leading the way, supported by infrastructure investment. ‘It’s a very good time in the region,’ says Doug Peel at White & Case, head of the firm’s Middle East practice, which is spread across five regional offices: Cairo, Riyadh, Doha, Abu Dhabi and Dubai. ‘We are busy all the way around – there’s substantial activity in all the GCC countries and in Egypt.’ Last year White & Case – along with Latham & Watkins – advised JPMorgan, Citi and HSBC on Saudi Arabia’s debut 144A/Reg S Sukuk programme, including the issue of $9bn Sukuk. Continue reading “Middle East: Mission unaccomplished”

Iberia: Off the Richter scale

Iberia: Off the Richter scale

‘An earthquake’; ‘very shocking’; ‘difficult to understand’; ‘one of the most relevant moves in the market over the last few years’: if you want members of the Spanish legal elite to come up with the most melodramatic expressions they can find, mention Juan Picón and Latham & Watkins.

You can easily see why. The news in November that DLA Piper’s senior partner and global co-chair was joining the US giant as Spain managing partner alongside fellow DLA corporate partners Ignacio Gómez-Sancha and José Antonio Sánchez-Dafos put Spain in the headlines of the global legal press. That does not happen every week. Continue reading “Iberia: Off the Richter scale”

Switzerland – The rough and the smooth

Switzerland – The rough and the smooth

Switzerland has not been in a foreign conflict since 1815 when its neutrality was first established by the Treaty of Paris. But, two centuries on, the peace-loving nation could be set to experience a discreet civil war – this time between its law firms.

Despite a cluster of top domestic players vying for the best work, Swiss lawyers have never experienced the level of international competition felt by France and Germany. The market has perhaps been too cosy, the work too plentiful and the outlook too certain. Yet there is something in the Alpine air that suggests this might change – and when it does, the battle for business will intensify. To be fought entirely by stealth rather than with steel, it may nevertheless reshape the domestic legal landscape. Continue reading “Switzerland – The rough and the smooth”

The offshore elite in review – rolling with the punches

The offshore elite in review – rolling with the punches

Global stock markets rose by 22% in 2017, according to the Morgan Stanley Capital International index of bourses. Meanwhile, the World Bank is forecasting global economic growth to increase to 3.1% this year after a better-than-expected 2017 as investment, trade and M&A continue to rebound while commodity prices recover. Against this favourable economic background, it is no surprise that offshore law firms had another very good year.

But there were some local difficulties. Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria created havoc across the Caribbean, not least in the British Virgin Islands (BVI). ‘It had a devastating impact on the lives of our BVI colleagues,’ says Jonathan Rigby, managing partner of Mourant Ozannes. ‘None of us will ever fully understand what they have been through, but their strength of character and resilience has been truly humbling.’ Continue reading “The offshore elite in review – rolling with the punches”

Laying the foundations – lawyers scramble as demand for African infra booms

Laying the foundations – lawyers scramble as demand for African infra booms

As the world’s largest continent, Africa covers 20% of global land area and 16% of the global population – currently 1.27 billion people, according to the latest United Nations estimates. By 2050, the addition of a further 1.3 billion Africans will be greater than the population growth in the rest of the world combined, pushing the continent’s total numbers above 2.6 billion citizens. In what is termed the biggest human transformation of our age, that figure is projected to reach four billion by the end of the century.

Accordingly, the infrastructure challenge is immense and some law firms are more alert than others to the long-term growth opportunities. Those with a short-term perspective see only problems: weak commodity prices, underdeveloped legal systems, corruption, currency issues and unstable or unreliable political regimes. They also focus on Africa’s still-modest aggregate GDP of $2.19trn (2016) – less than France – and compared with $1.6trn (2010), a slight decline in percentage terms over six years from 3% to 2.9% of the global total. Continue reading “Laying the foundations – lawyers scramble as demand for African infra booms”

Rousing the bear – Russian counsel force to hunt in new places

Rousing the bear – Russian counsel force to hunt in new places

Russia’s propensity for volatility is infamous. Since its revolution 100 years ago, it has lived through events that the Soviet Union’s founders would never have imagined. Today, amid heightened geopolitical tensions, it continues to face huge uncertainty. But its law firms are adamant that it will continue to provide solid revenues.

‘Reports of Russia’s decline are much exaggerated and most of the issues with the West are not business-driven,’ argues Dimitry Afanasiev, chair and co-founder of Egorov Puginsky Afanasiev & Partners (EPAP). ‘When oil prices head north of $60 and the cycle in hard assets turns, we will remain strategically-placed to capitalise on the opportunities.’ Continue reading “Rousing the bear – Russian counsel force to hunt in new places”