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Practice profile: Ambition meets focus to drive growth

Eversheds Sutherland’s Richard Moulton, Eric Knai, Amanda Partland, James Trevis and Stephen Nash outline how their firm’s corporate group has gone from strength to strength

Eversheds Sutherland’s US combination in 2017 marked a new era for the firm. In many respects it was the final piece of the jigsaw for their corporate group’s status as a global powerhouse. Since then, the corporate group has grown to represent a significant amount of the firm’s global revenue and is home to over 700 corporate lawyers.

Eversheds Sutherland’s UK corporate group, in particular at its international HQ in London, is still the largest in terms of size and breadth. But significant growth in other locations, such as Asia, France, Germany, the Middle East and, of course, the United States, has transformed the capabilities of the corporate group to handle the biggest and most complex deals in the market. In many ways 2021 was a significant milestone for the group in a year when it completed a record number of M&A transactions, significantly increased the average value of its deals and advised on a record number of deals above $1bn. This combined effect meant the firm delivered a total value of deals far in excess of anything it had previously achieved.

London based global co-head of corporate, Richard Moulton, has overseen a period of sustained growth since he took over the role back in 2017. He comments: ‘We have always been a large group, especially in the UK, doing a broad range of great deals for our clients. From day one my focus was on ensuring we continued to develop and deepen relationships with our clients and give them the very best experience when working with us on a deal. I also saw huge potential for us to really stake our claim as a leading global corporate practice, with the required expertise, experience and bench strength in locations across the globe, so that we delivered consistently, wherever a client’s deal takes them’.

It certainly looks like Moulton has been true to his word with a number of partner hires in key M&A markets, supplementing the promotion of talented individuals at all levels. However, it appears the growth in the corporate practice since 2017 is merely the appetiser for the group’s plans over the next three years. He comments: ‘As we continue to grow, we have identified the need to refocus our business on the expertise our clients require from us, to better reflect where the market is going and where our people want to specialise. We have spent a huge amount of time creating specialist groups within our practice so that we have technically excellent lawyers, delivering for clients’.

The corporate group has grown to represent a significant amount of the firm’s global revenue.

The corporate group at the firm has created four business units within it: M&A, international corporate reorganisations, private capital and public company advisory. Each of these business units has a leader who is tasked with developing specialist practices to provide the very best legal advice and execution to clients.

The M&A practice is perhaps the beacon for the firm’s ambitions for its corporate group. In May 2021, this was confirmed with the appointment of Eric Knai as the firm’s first international head of M&A. Knai, who had been leading the hugely successful Paris team was, in many ways, the natural choice: a long-standing and well-respected M&A lawyer with a track record of delivering deals for many of the firm’s global clients.

The role sees him lead the firm’s 500-strong M&A group across Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Knai told us: ‘It was an honour to be asked to take on this role. I have ambitious plans for our Global M&A practice and my focus is and will continue to be on our clients and our people. When I started, it made sense for us to take a hard look at our market proposition. We were recognised for our cross-border capabilities and for the type of deals we had traditionally done, but we really wanted to take that to the next level.’

That next level for Knai was to place a sharp focus on the M&A Group’s sector expertise. He added: ‘We’ve always had genuine sector and sub sector expertise, but by formalising that, getting those lawyers working together, we have a much stronger and coordinated group able to demonstrate to our clients that we have deep sector experience, an impressive track record and that we actually rival any other firm on our ability to understand our clients’ industries, businesses and the issues and risks they were likely to face on any given transaction. That’s a really powerful message.’

His plans to shape the market proposition didn’t stop there. Central to the M&A group’s success has been the ability to call on specialists from other areas of the firm to provide key support on transactions. Knai commented: ‘We have leading experts in key areas such as employment, merger control, finance, tax, data and regulatory. These specialists significantly contribute to providing our clients with the strategic advice they require on complex transactions, spotting critical issues before they happen and helping provide solid solutions.’

Eversheds Sutherland is recruiting a significant number of M&A partners across its global network, particularly in London and New York.

Perhaps the biggest signal of the firm’s ambition for its corporate group is the level of investment it is making. The firm is recruiting a significant number of M&A partners across its global network, particularly in London and New York, and Knai understands how important this is. He added: ‘We’re looking for ambitious partners, hungry to grow their book of business on an exceptional global platform. We have added a number of partners recently who have come in and hit the ground running.’ Knai cites the examples of Martin Mankabady and Adriana Cotter, who joined the firm from Dentons earlier in 2022 to bolster its corporate insurance practice.

As a private equity lawyer himself, one practice Moulton has been particularly keen to focus on is private capital. Led by partner James Trevis, the justification for focusing on the private market is clear. With almost $1trn of ‘dry powder’ raised in 2021 according to data provider Prequin, any corporate practice with ambition has to have a strong private investment offering.

Trevis comments: ‘We (the firm) have always seen huge potential in our private equity practice. We have a really strong group of lawyers delivering some of the stand out PE deals in the market. We’ve also benefited greatly from the support of other practices, such as our leveraged finance and tax teams who have dedicated their careers to focus on private equity funds, which is a real differentiator for us.’

The future of the practice, Trevis adds, is building out the offering to service other sources of private capital, notably real estate and energy and infrastructure funds, along with sovereign wealth funds and family offices.

It is an area the firm has been making significant moves in the hiring market. The latest recruit, Waltter Kulvik, who joined the London team from Ashurst in Singapore, is evidence of the growing sophistication of the private capital group that also saw the return of Jon Gill from TLT in 2021 to build a strong venture capital proposition in the City.

Trevis comments: ‘The addition of Jon and Waltter helps us to fill gaps in our London offering. Jon’s arrival really gives us a deeper foothold in the VC market and Waltter provides a London office for global private investors, particularly from Asia. We are really excited about the future and the proposition we can provide from London for investors from the US, Middle East and Asia.’

The firm has also recognised the growth in reorganisation work and has built a dedicated international corporate reorganisations practice, led by partner Amanda Partland. The international reorganisations group caters to clients who are undertaking complex projects that don’t necessarily involve a transaction, but are large in scale. These projects include legal entity rationalisations, cash utilisation and cash repatriation projects, cross-border mergers and re-domiciliations, spin offs, separations and carve-outs.

The firm has taken a different approach to that of many of its peers by operating a team of specialists rather than having corporate generalists run these projects. Partland comments: ‘Our practice evolved to such an extent that we felt the best way to provide support to our clients was to have lawyers who were dedicated to delivering reorganisation projects. Many of the projects the group delivers involve over 50 jurisdictions and span multiple years. They are extremely complex and require a focus only specialists can give.’ This point is backed up by yet more hiring activity from the firm. In 2021 the firm bought Eda Demirel into the London office from DLA Piper, following the promotion of Nicola Evans to Partner and the addition of Wieger ten Hove from Simmons & Simmons in Amsterdam. Eda has spent her career doing international corporate reorganisations for major corporates, particularly US -based industrial and technology businesses, having started out life at EY. Partland adds: ‘Our ambition is to create one the biggest reorganizations groups of any law firm’.

Eversheds Sutherland has also recognised the growth in reorganisation work and is building a dedicated international corporate reorganisations practice, led by partner Amanda Partland.

Partland also sees the tax practice at Eversheds Sutherland as another differentiator for the group. They regularly work directly and collaboratively with the tax teams of major accountancy firms on projects. However, Eversheds Sutherland’s international tax team regularly designs new group structures, giving them an ability to deliver corporate reorganisations from strategy to execution.

The firm is listed by Adviser Rankings as corporate legal adviser to 70 quoted companies including clients in the FTSE 100 and FTSE 250, providing an ideal platform for its public company advisory practice, led by Stephen Nash. The group advises corporate clients and investment banks on IPOs and secondary fundraisings, public company M&A, including recommended, competitive and hostile takeovers, and ongoing compliance and corporate governance issues. Nash spent two years on secondment at the takeover panel early in his career and has since led the firm to become one of the most active in the market for UK public M&A.

Commenting on the practice Nash states: ‘Our public company advisory practice has long been established in our firm. In the UK in particular our regional office network is a real differentiator for clients who are not based in London, but want to have access to the London market. Regardless of where they are based, our lawyers have an impressive track record of helping clients to list and to raise funds on the main market and AIM. We also look to build long-term relationships with those listed clients, advising them on their continuing obligations, including transactions subject to the class tests, disclosure obligations and matters of corporate governance’.

In all of its constituent parts, the corporate group has led the charge on the use of legal technology and legal project management techniques within the firm. This is important to Moulton as he sees the vital role it plays when delivering complex projects efficiently, whilst allowing lawyers to manage relationships and deliver the clients goals by focusing on the key issues to them. The group has dedicated teams of legal technologists and project managers supporting on deals. Most of the group’s deals utilise their DealMaster platform, a suite of technologies used to deliver transactions, including the use of AI in document reviews. Moulton says: ‘We’re proud of our approach. It sees our partners lead transactions from start to finish supported by first class associates and specialist teams. Clients appreciate having access to a partner throughout and a senior figurehead who is responsible for their deal’.

It is clear that Eversheds Sutherland’s corporate group is going through a transformation backed by the wider firm and ambitious leadership. Moulton adds: ‘What we have is a fantastic global platform, great people and deep client relationships. We will continue to leverage this whilst investing in our talent and bringing the right people into the business who share our client-focused approach.’

Summarising Eversheds Sutherland’s corporate practice, Moulton says: ‘What we do best is helping our clients undertake complex, high value and cross-border corporate transactions. The combination of our sector knowledge, the depth of legal expertise from across the firm and our approach to delivery is what clients value and is the reason why they come back to us time and time again to deliver their strategic transactions.’

Richard Moulton, Global Co-Head, Corporate

Eric Knai, International Head of M&A

Amanda Partland, Head of International Corporate Reorganisations

James Trevis, Head of the Private Equity Group

Stephen Nash, Head of Equity Capital Markets and Public Company Advisory

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