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”
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”
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”
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”
Think offshore centre and certain calm images spring to mind: elegant yachts, crystal blue water, sparsely-populated beaches and gently sloping palm trees. However, in September this idyllic cliché was superseded in the public consciousness by horrific scenes of destruction as Hurricane Irma and then Hurricane Maria ripped through the Caribbean. The British Virgin Islands, where nine of the top ten offshore law firms have an office and nearly 400,000 offshore companies are registered, were catastrophically affected.
Favoured by Chinese companies in Hong Kong for more than 30 years, ‘a BVI’ is shorthand for an offshore company, so renown is its status. But while the narrative coming out of the British Overseas Territory has been defiant with Lorna Smith, interim executive director of BVI Finance, saying there was ‘no doubt’ it will fully return, it could take some time before full operational normality as a commercial and litigation centre is restored. At press time, the territory’s company register continued to function via the online portal, VIRRGIN and just prior to the disruption, company incorporation certificates were sent to London by the BVI Financial Services Commission to have them issued there. The commercial division of the High Court had resumed and matters were being heard by the commercial judge sitting in nearby St Lucia in person, or by teleconferencing or videoconferencing if agreed by the parties. Continue reading “Offshore: Riding the storm”
Barry Devereux, managing partner of Irish leader McCann FitzGerald, is not letting the bad Irish weather dampen his spirits. ‘The Irish market is buoyant and there are a lot of things going on. The economy is growing, markets are good and debt is relatively inexpensive. The climate is good for deal-making. Brexit is the reality, but it will undoubtedly provide opportunities across the financial services market in Dublin. It has given a fillip to the market in terms of the interest in real estate, and people looking for accommodation and office space. Dublin is doing very well.’
Dublin’s legal market continues to boom. The impact of Brexit undoubtedly dented the transactional market in the last six months of 2016, but the shock has, for the most part, subsided and many practice areas are busy. Real estate has enjoyed a particular resurgence after the painful post-bailout year, while corporate and finance lawyers are always in high demand. But the Irish market is also enjoying a boom in more niche areas, including data protection and intellectual property, particularly with the incoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and legal works in the fields of fintech, regulatory investigations and online gaming. Continue reading “Emerald Ambitions”
Crisis is an overused term, worn out by endless repetition. For most European economies, it has meant a period of low or stagnant growth over the last decade and, in some cases, a year or two of negative GDP eventually followed by a welcome recovery. For Cyprus, however, the word has had even greater potency: between 2008 and 2015, GDP per capita declined by roughly 30%. On top of the global 2008-09 recession, Cyprus had its own domestic banking crisis in 2012-13, precipitated by the eurozone collapse. This led to a downgrade of its bond credit rating to junk status and a €10bn bailout programme from the troika of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
It would be all too easy to dismiss Cyprus based on this performance – except that the island’s economy is experiencing a belated rebound. And what that means for investors in the medium term is significant. Despite financial services activity continuing to have a negative effect on the economy, latest GDP figures show a healthy 3% growth, which ‘surpasses all expectations’, according to finance minister Harris Georgiades. Continue reading “A new hope for Cyprus’s recession-battered lawyers”
Every Thursday at 6pm, Yair Geva, co-head of Herzog Fox & Neeman (HFN)’s high-tech department, drinks a beer on the rooftop of a client’s office in central Tel Aviv. The weekly drink, which started seven years ago when he returned to Israel from New York, is a routine that is borne out of professional commitment and friendship. In the start-up and high-tech world, the two often go hand in hand.
‘We share a long journey with our clients and we are often with them from day one,’ Geva says. ‘The only way to keep in touch with this very vibrant dynamic ecosystem is to hang out with friends, clients and hear the news.’ Continue reading “In the game – Israeli law firms embrace risks to secure the tech icons of tomorrow”
Emerging markets are by nature volatile, frequently impacted by events such as political instability, civil unrest, corruption and other economic forces. The extremes of growth and decline could hardly be more apparent than in the Middle East, where the collapse in oil prices has prompted a great deal of soul searching.
Saudi Arabia, for example, is going through the most radical social and economic reform programme in its history, and Iran is still subject to ongoing trade sanctions and uncertainty connected to US foreign policy. Added to this, these two nations share deep enmity, which demands high levels of diplomacy on the part of firms that target both jurisdictions. Continue reading “Holding steady – A turbulent Middle East market separates the committed from the faint-hearted”
Switzerland is changing. Among the country’s traditionally-minded law firms, conservatism is in decline, fuelled by a greater appetite for domestic mergers, increased lawyer mobility between firms and a belated focus on alternative legal service provision. Accordingly, Swiss lawyers are much like the swans on Lake Geneva: smooth and serene on the surface, all the while paddling furiously underneath. An energetic response to the fresh demands of an evolving legal services landscape is paying dividends for some.
The wider economy presents a mixed picture, as Urs Klöti, managing partner of Pestalozzi, outlines: ‘Challenging times remain. The Swiss franc is still very strong, which means that export services are extremely expensive compared with previously. That’s an issue for bigger law firms, because many of our invoice payers are non-Swiss counterparts: in relative terms, we’re certainly more expensive than two or three years ago. We often hear it when we talk about fees.’ Continue reading “Making ripples – Turbulent times ahead for the Swiss legal market”