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”
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”
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 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”
As the eurozone economy slows down after six years of uninterrupted growth, Switzerland is an anxious spectator. Amid increased concerns among the EU27 over the potential impact of a disorderly Brexit and the halt to quantitative easing from the European Central Bank’s asset-purchasing programme, Europe’s big three are bracing themselves while Switzerland sits in the middle, watching intently.
To the west, France endures its gilets jaunes; to the south, Italy faces a looming debt crisis with its banks. In the north, Germany has just avoided a technical recession and, like many of the other 18 eurozone countries, forecasters suggest that it will be fortunate to see 1% GDP growth this year. ‘What I see in Italy and France is scary, in particular the rise of populism,’ says Manuel Bianchi della Porta, managing partner of BianchiSchwald in Geneva. ‘A lot is going on in the eurozone: most Swiss trade depends upon Germany, France and Italy. But it seems that we are living on a small island unaffected by all the turmoil that is happening around us. It is like the political stability of our country is protecting us and the business community we are serving.’ Continue reading “Switzerland – Between a rock and a hard place”
Donald Trump is still in office, Brexit is still about to happen, but the global economy in 2018 provided few of the seismic shocks that have reverberated offshore in recent years. Uncertainty remains a continuous theme, although there were none of the revelations like the Panama Papers of 2016 and the Paradise Papers in 2017, both of which generated big headlines but ultimately little impact.
The media attention has been underpinned by what Ingrid Pierce, global managing partner of Walkers, calls ‘a deliberate unwillingness to understand the benefits of international financial centres to the global economy’. Offshore reputation remains a concern for Michael O’Connell, Appleby’s group managing partner. ‘Considering the escalating media, political and regulatory scrutiny that the industry is under, combined with the pressures of an uncertain economic environment, there is a continued need to focus on perception and reputation,’ he says. ‘Any large mistakes are likely to be blown out of proportion in the current climate.’ Continue reading “Offshore leaders’ year in review: Under pressure”
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”
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”
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”
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”