Legal Business Blogs

Sponsored briefing: Reviewing the M&A landscape

Milbank’s Lisa O’Neill, Andrea Hamilton and Lara Watt on developments in the M&A market as well as the strength of their team

Reflecting on the M&A landscape over the last few years, Lisa O’Neill, partner and co-head of the corporate group in Milbank’s London office, was struck by the scale of change driven by global events. ‘The Covid-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, the inflationary environment and impact on lending, the proliferation of foreign investment controls and foreign subsidies regulations, an increasing focus on ESG – the list goes on. These macro-economic and policy developments have affected the market significantly and driven increasing client need for top-tier advice within the more complex landscape,’ she explains. ‘In addition, within the legal sector there are increased demands for broader inclusion among practitioners and greater DEI efforts overall; this change is also being reflected in the M&A community.’

Lisa joined Milbank in January 2020. An M&A lawyer with a focus on infrastructure, Lisa has advised on some of the largest M&A/infrastructure transactions in recent years, from advising Apollo on its long-term strategic investment with The Abu Dhabi National Oil Company for an underlying real estate portfolio valued at $5.5bn to advising Public Power Corporation on its €1.9bn acquisition of Enel’s renewables portfolio, electricity distribution and supply business in Romania.

Lisa was attracted to Milbank for its unique combination of a collaborative culture with a focus on excellence in lawyering and entrepreneurial spirit. Lisa says: ‘Being a woman leading complex high-value M&A/infrastructure deals you need to be tough and back yourself when facing all of the challenges that arise negotiating these deals. To thrive in this career though and to be happy, like many other men and women, I need to feel part of a team. I need to feel supported and encouraged by my fellow partners and I am very lucky to have found that at Milbank. When I look at the infrastructure space, it is through the incredible collaboration of partners across our offices that we are able to deepen client relationships and secure great mandates.

‘Being a woman leading complex high-value M&A/infrastructure deals you need to be tough and back yourself when facing all of the challenges that arise negotiating these deals.’
Lisa O’Neill, Milbank

While we are currently in a period where many funds are deploying capital into existing projects and small bolt-ons rather than large-scale M&A, there has overall been a significant push towards infrastructure assets in recent years. These assets can provide safe, stable returns even in more challenging markets. Lisa and her colleagues have been focusing on further building out their team to have top-tier regulatory, infrastructure and private equity expertise to capture opportunities as M&A markets develop again. They have found that engaging a broader pool of talent has gone hand-in-hand with finding excellent people and led to the recruitment of two leading partners, Andrea Hamilton and Lara Watt. Both women are playing a key role in helping the firm and its clients respond to the shifting M&A landscape.

Andrea was recruited into Milbank’s London office in 2021 as a specialist in merger control reviews, antitrust investigations, and foreign direct investment controls. ‘In addition to being an incredible person, Andrea is an immensely talented lawyer and has quickly established herself as a core part of our global M&A team,’ says Lisa. ‘She has the unique ability to do US, UK and European antitrust work and is incredibly skilled in turning her hand to other regulatory areas when needed – she became a major support to the sanctions team after the war in Ukraine began.’

Andrea’s expertise has been vital for clients amid an environment of increasing regulatory demands on transactions. ‘It is clear to me that transactions are subject to broader and deeper regulatory scrutiny than ever across the world, which can lead to uncertainty,’ she explains. ‘The proliferation of foreign investment controls, greater antitrust scrutiny and the development of new regulatory hurdles such as the EU Foreign Subsidies Regulations have all affected – and are affecting – the regulatory climate significantly and shifted the path to deal closings over the last few years.’ Milbank’s antitrust practice has not only grown in London with the addition of Andrea, but continues to grow worldwide, with three partners joining the Washington DC office in the last year, and continued growth of the firm’s EU practice in Munich. When Andrea joined Milbank, this growth value was immediately apparent and realised through the firm’s culture. ‘A collaborative culture like Milbank’s is good for everyone and promotes better client service. Stronger outcomes result when individuals see themselves as fully integrated members of a team and see their role and responsibilities in that context.’

Further deepening Milbank’s private equity bench, private equity specialist and partner Lara Watt joined Milbank as part of a six-partner team from private equity boutique Dickson Minto in 2023. ‘While deal activity on the whole has remained subdued in the first half of 2023, some sectors remain reasonably active from a PE investment perspective, particularly healthcare and technology,’ Lara says of current market trends. ‘Transactions are generally taking longer to execute, but from a legal perspective, dealing with the additional complexity, both technical and commercial, presents a real opportunity to add meaningful value to clients – helping get deals through despite the challenges,’ she adds. ‘Lara’s depth of understanding of the market and what clients need now has strengthened our private equity capabilities and sits naturally alongside our top-tier practitioners elsewhere in Europe and in the US and Asia,’ notes Lisa. ‘In addition to Lara’s private equity expertise, she has brought an incredible energy and enthusiasm that make her an invaluable mentor and team player.’

Like Andrea, Lara quickly marked the culture of support and collaboration at Milbank, specifically as a woman in M&A. ‘I’m proud to be at a firm where I immediately felt welcomed, embraced and supported by my new partners,’ Lara notes.

Milbank was among the first pioneering firms to establish a diversity, equity and inclusion committee, which it launched in 1992, and enjoys a proud track record of prioritising a culture and approach to working that derives from and benefits a range of backgrounds and perspectives, as well as the commitment to mentorship that Lisa, Andrea and Lara display. Milbank actively supports diverse communities in the firm through affinity groups, such as Women@Milbank, which fosters gender inclusion and supports the recruitment, retention, and progression of female lawyers. Members also participate in student recruitment and building relationships with female aspiring lawyers and law groups on campus, reflecting the firm’s focus on supporting junior talent from the very beginning.

At Milbank, the importance of supporting women in transactional practices is realised through a focus on providing opportunities for female lawyers at all levels, and the firm’s collaborative culture is built to enable this success. The M&A landscape will continue to evolve and demand specialist expertise, and as Milbank’s M&A offering continues to develop alongside these market opportunities, Lisa, Andrea, and Lara will continue to fly the flag for women in M&A as a key part of the team’s success and growth.

For more information, please contact:

Lisa O’Neill
Partner and co-head of corporate London
T: +44 20 7615 3300

Andrea Hamilton
Partner, corporate antitrust
T: +44 20 7615 3804

Lara Watt
Partner, private equity
T: +44 20 7615 3954

100 Liverpool Street
London, UK EC2M 2AT
T +44 20 7615 3000