Banks could face backlash on legal panel reviews

With the latest round of bank panel reviews in full swing, early indications show signs of a backlash from law firms as banks place increasing demands on panel candidates at the same time as driving down costs.

In October, The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) announced the results of its long-running panel review. By reducing its number of sub-panels from 13 to five, it has significantly lowered the number of law firms on the panel from around 100 previously to between 55 and 60 now. Meanwhile, former panel firms Slaughter and May, Olswang and Mayer Brown didn’t pitch to join the panel this time around.

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Landmark three-way merger aims to end Dentons’ Europe woes

At press time, partners at SNR Denton, Salans and Canadian firm Fraser Milner Casgrain (FMC) were poised to vote through a $1bn, three-way merger using a Swiss Verein model.

A source within SNR Denton said that the union was basically a ‘done deal’ with partners from all firms having met on 13 November to review the business plan behind the proposed merger. SNR Denton and Salans have been in talks for a while and have refused to comment on merger speculation. The addition of FMC to the union emerged in November. Continue reading “Landmark three-way merger aims to end Dentons’ Europe woes”

Firms set sights on Asia investment into Middle East

Squire Sanders expanded both its Middle East and South Korea operations in October, as Latham & Watkins reported a surge in investment activity between Asia, most notably China, and the Gulf states.

Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton also announced in October that it will open an office in Seoul, following approval from the Korean regulatory authorities. This follows the opening of the firm’s office in Abu Dhabi in September. Squire Sanders expanded its Middle East practice through the acquisition of El-Khoury & Partners’ Middle East and North Africa (MENA) business, which formerly operated in Saudi Arabia as EK Partners & Al-Enezee.

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Places up for grabs on FSA investigation panel

City law firms unimpeded by banking relationships will be seeking a place on a new Financial Services Authority (FSA) panel of external advisers to carry out investigations into financial institutions. The panel, which will be announced in spring next year, will comprise firms that will compile reports under section 166 of the Financial Services and Markets Act (FSMA), also known as ‘skilled person’ reports, as part of the FSA’s drive towards a risk-based regulatory approach.

The FSA put out a tender questionnaire in October as part of its process to appoint the panel. The FSA will use firms on the panel when a financial services institution finds itself in trouble, using the reports to decide whether to fine or impose other sanctions.

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Baker & McKenzie becomes first global firm in Peru

Baker & McKenzie has extended its increasing strategic focus on Latin America by becoming the first international law firm to establish in Peru.

The firm announced a new partnership with Estudio Echecopar, a leading Lima-based firm, in October. It is one of the largest firms in Peru, with over 200 staff, and is ranked in the top tier in the current issue of The Legal 500 Latin America for corporate, M&A, disputes, projects and banking and finance.

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Turkey and Africa expansion on the cards for Pinsents

Following an extremely acquisitive year since its strategic alliance with Salans came to an end, Pinsent Masons shows no signs of slowing down, with Turkey and Africa next in its sights for 2013.

According to a spokesperson at the firm, Pinsents is considering a joint venture or alliance in Turkey next year and its recent launch in Paris also potentially provides access to the energy and infrastructure market in northern and sub-Saharan Africa.

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Consolidation changes the face of Scottish elite again

At the end of a dramatic year for the Scottish legal market, the recently announced union between Glasgow and Edinburgh star Burness and one of Aberdeen’s strongest firms, Paull & Williamsons, looks set to redefine the Caledonian top-tier.

The merger, which was announced last month and takes effect on 1 December, will see the two firms combine to form Burness Paull & Williamsons, a firm with 400 staff, including 60 partners and 158 fee-earners. The Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow offices will each be roughly the same size. Combined revenues based on 2011/12 figures will be around £37.6m, which will place the new entity ahead of Big Four firm Shepherd and Wedderburn and just behind local rival Brodies.

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Surge of law firm openings in revitalised Middle East

The resurgence of commercial activity in the Middle East is prompting international law firms to strengthen their presence in the region, with Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton and CMS announcing their first regional offices within a week of each other.

Cleary announced at the beginning of September that it would be opening its first Middle East office after obtaining a licence from the Abu Dhabi Executive Council in the summer. CMS group opened its office in Dubai on 23 September, adding to its offerings in Iraq and Lebanon.

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Ashurst revamps partner capital system

News that Ashurst is adopting a capital contribution system for partners this year finally brings the City International firm in line with the rest of its major rivals in the City.

As part of the reorganisation, each Ashurst equity partner will be asked to pay in a one-off capital contribution based on the number of equity points they hold. Currently, the firm does not ask partners to pay in capital, but retains a percentage of partner profits each year that is then distributed to partners when they leave or retire. The move is a bid to align capital contributions from lateral hires and homegrown talent, and bring the firm in line with its Australian merger partner Blake Dawson.

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Liberalisation of Singapore market gathers pace

The Singapore Ministry of Law (MinLaw) stopped receiving applications from foreign law firms seeking a Qualifying Foreign Law Practice (QFLP) licence at the end of August. Twenty-three firms have applied for a QFLP, with UK-based Ashurst, Berwin Leighton Paisner, DLA Piper, Olswang and Stephenson Harwood all confirming that they have applied for licences alongside US firms Jones Day, K&L Gates, Watson, Farley & Williams, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and Shearman & Sterling.

Singapore used to only allow foreign firms to work alongside domestic practices in limited joint ventures. However, in 2008 MinLaw granted six QFLPs to Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Herbert Smith, Latham & Watkins, Norton Rose and White & Case, allowing those firms to practise Singaporean law with some restrictions. The latest moves reflect the increasing interest of international firms in practising local law.

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