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”
Looking out of the window of his office overlooking the picturesque Piazza del Duomo on a rainy April afternoon, one veteran Milan partner is feeling sentimental: ‘I remember the firms that used to dominate the market back when I started – Graziadei, Carnelutti, Pavia Ansaldo. No-one hears of them anymore.’ What on the surface seems nostalgic reflection poses a pressing question for Italy’s current legal elite: what will become of today’s top independents in the near future?
‘It is as if the market gets tired of dominating firms every ten years or so and replaces them with others,’ agrees a partner in another office in the northern Italian city. Continue reading “The Euro Elite: Italy – And yet it moves”
‘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”
‘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 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”