Legal Business

Real estate, real estate, real estate: Bryan Cave? Questions surround BLP’s transatlantic union

Real estate, real estate, real estate: Bryan Cave? Questions surround BLP’s transatlantic union

Hamish McNicol and Thomas Alan canvass the market on the latest UK/US tie-up

‘Next year all our troubles will be out of sight,’ sang Judy Garland in the 1944 film Meet Me In St Louis. You wonder whether the leadership of Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) was singing those words from ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ in December before the firm’s quest for a US merger ended with St Louis-bred Bryan Cave. Because apart from a press release lauding the aspirations of the transatlantic tie-up, first floated publicly last October, there has not been much singing since.

Legal Business

Disputes round-up: Burford records staggering 109% income boost as SFO branded ‘embarrassing’ by judge

Disputes round-up: Burford records staggering 109% income boost as SFO branded ‘embarrassing’ by judge

A resounding indication of the impact funders are having on the disputes market, Burford Capital has unveiled impressive financial results underlined by a 109% rise in income.

Elsewhere, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has been chastised by a judge over the quality of one of its witnesses, while Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) has won a High Court case after the first use of predictive coding technology.

The rise in income for Burford means the figure stands at $341.2m for the financier, up from $163.4m last year. Burford’s net profit after tax was also up 130% to $264.8m, while operating profit increased 132% to $289m.

Burford chief executive Christopher Bogart told Legal Business that Burford’s publically-listed setup gives it an edge over its rivals: ‘The transparency that comes with being listed is an important differentiator for the clients. The clients we are addressing are major corporates. Being able to pick up an annual report is significant, for other players it’s very difficult to unravel how much capital they have.’

The undeniably strong financial performance reflects a disputes market warming to the influence of funders. According to Burford’s annual report, the reported usage of disputes finance by US firms has grown dramatically over the last four years. In 2013, just 7% reported using funders, compared to 36% in 2017.

Last year, Burford generated more profit for the first half of 2017 than in any full year in its history.

In other news, the SFO has been criticised by the Court of Appeal for ‘an embarrassing debacle’ over an expert witness called in a Libor appeal trial.

Alex Pabon, an ex-Barclays trader who was convicted alongside three others for conspiracy to defraud in 2016, failed in his appeal. The SFO had called another former trader, Saul Haydon Rowe, as an expert witness. But the court observed his evidence had ‘significant failings’ despite it having no impact on the outcome of the case.

The judgment stated: ‘In fairness to the SFO, this was the third time that Rowe had given evidence in Libor trials and the first time any questions concerning his expertise had apparently arisen. Nonetheless, there is no room for complacency and this case stands as a stark reminder of the need for those instructing expert witnesses to satisfy themselves as to the witness’ expertise and to engage (difficult though it sometimes may be) an expert of a suitable calibre.’

One white-collar partner commented: ‘If you are going to instruct an expert, you have to make sure they have the expertise they claim to have. But I hope this doesn’t put the SFO off from instructing experts. There are some cases, especially ones involving accounting, where you need the views of an expert.’

Finally, BLP claims to have secured the first successful judgment following the use of predictive coding software to complete a document review exercise.

BLP represented BCA Trading in a 12-day High Court trial, in an unfair prejudice case brought by a minority shareholder of Tradeouts Limited, a business that BCA has a majority stake in.

According to the firm, the case relied ‘heavily’ on contemporaneous documents, which had been disclosed using predictive coding.

BLP’s head of disputes, Oliver Glynn-Jones, commented: ‘Using this setup, BLP was able to significantly reduce our client’s costs. Now that the technology has been tested and proven at full trial, and demonstrated benefits in terms of cost and accuracy, we predict that it’s likely to become much more prevalent in commercial litigation.’

tom.baker@legalease.co.uk

Legal Business

BLP and Bryan Cave back deal to forge top 50 global player but will combined firm have potency?

BLP and Bryan Cave back deal to forge top 50 global player but will combined firm have potency?

Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP)’s quest for a US merger is over after its proposed transatlantic tie-up with Bryan Cave was given the green light by partners.

The new firm will be called Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner (BCLP) and will officially launch in April this year after the partnerships of each firm announced the result of their merger vote today (26 February), a few weeks after the proposal was formally announced. This after BLP less than two years ago failed to strike a deal with Greenberg Traurig.

BCLP will be a financially-integrated practice with 32 offices across 12 countries, good for a combined revenue of more than $900m. The combined firm will edge into the Global top 50 in revenue terms.

The St Louis-bred Bryan Cave has 910 lawyers in 26 offices, including 19 branches in the US. It recorded profit per equity partner (PEP) of $866,000 in 2016 compared to £630,000 for the 840-lawyer BLP in 2016/17.

BLP managing partner Lisa Mayhew issued a statement lauding the union in aspirational terms, noting the tie-up was: ‘Different to most other international firms, ours will be fully financially integrated from day one. This will enable us to work in teams whose only focus will be to provide a first class service to clients.’

Bryan Cave chair Therese Pritchard expounded in a similar vein: ‘Both firms have long traditions of building strong relationships – both with clients and within our firms. This legacy is reflected in shared values, including a core belief that our greatest asset is our people and our greatest responsibility is to our clients.’

In the top 75 of the Global 100 based on revenue ($607.8m), Bryan Cave has recorded pedestrian top-line growth of 9% over the past five years. While its revenue per lawyer at $639,000 compares respectably with some US competitors, its profit margin at 28% is low for a major American player.

It is also no stranger to merger discussions, having seen recent talks abandoned after being on the brink of acquiring DC disputes and regulatory firm Dickstein Shapiro in 2015 before it agreed a deal with Blank Rome. The firm previously acquired Denver’s Holme Roberts & Owen in 2012, Atlanta’s Powell Goldstein in 2009 and New York’s Robinson, Silverman, Pearce, Aronsohn & Berman in 2002.

The BLP-Bryan Cave merger garnered a mixed response in the industry since the tie-up emerged in October, and according to some reports was met in BLP’s partner ranks with a pragmatic shrug rather than wild enthusiasm. Nevertheless, the vote was viewed as a formality, making it one of a select handful of substantial transatlantic legal unions to have made it over the line.

With BLP still viewed in the City as a very significant property and mid-market operator despite a lean recent few years, there will be much focus in the UK on if a deal can get the firm back to its 2000s glory days or just provide more scale.

hamish.mcnicol@legalease.co.uk

For more comment on the union click here.

Legal Business

Transatlantic crossing – BLP and Bryan Cave to complete merger vote in February

Transatlantic crossing – BLP and Bryan Cave to complete merger vote in February

The partnerships of Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) and US law firm Bryan Cave are to vote on their transatlantic tie-up, with the outcome set to be unveiled at the end of February.

If successful, the union would bring to an end the City firm’s quest for a US suitor, with BLP having less than two years ago failed to strike a deal with Greenberg Traurig.

‘BLP and Bryan Cave confirm that a proposal to combine the two firms will be voted upon by both partnerships with an outcome expected the week of 26 February,’ said a BLP spokesperson.

A combination would create a 1,700-lawyer practice with 32 offices across 12 countries. The St Louis-bred Bryan Cave has 910 lawyers in 26 offices, including 19 bases in the US. It recorded profit per equity partner (PEP) of $866,000 in 2016 compared to £630,000 for 840-lawyer BLP in 2016/17.

In the top 75 of the Global 100 based on revenue ($607.8m), Bryan Cave has recorded pedestrian top-line growth of 9% over the past five years. While its revenue per lawyer at $639,000 compares respectably with some US competitors, its profit margin at 28% is low for a major American player.

Bryan Cave is no stranger to merger discussions. It has seen recent talks abandoned after having been on the brink of acquiring DC disputes and regulatory firm Dickstein Shapiro in 2015 before it agreed a deal with Blank Rome. The firm previously acquired Denver’s Holme Roberts & Owen in 2012, Atlanta’s Powell Goldstein in 2009 and New York’s Robinson, Silverman, Pearce, Aronsohn & Berman in 2002.

It is fair to say that the union has garnered a mixed response in the industry since the proposed tie-up emerged in October, even allowing for the fact that peers rarely miss a chance to talk down a rival.

The deal has, according to some reports, been met in BLP’s partner ranks with a pragmatic shrug rather than wild enthusiasm. Nonetheless, the vote is viewed as a formality in what will be one of the select handful of substantial transatlantic legal unions to have made it over the line. Given that the original marriage of Paisner & Co and Berwin Leighton defied low expectations during the 2000s, the City real estate leader will be hoping to repeat the trick on a larger scale.

nathalie.tidman@legalease.co.uk

For more commentary on the union see ‘A certain loss of confidence

Legal Business

Comment: BLP’s US merger bid – a certain loss of confidence

Comment: BLP’s US merger bid – a certain loss of confidence

If nothing else, it is safe to say Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP)’s not-very-convincing claim that management was not dead set on a US merger was stretching it. Because recent news that the firm is debating a union with Bryan Cave screams: ‘We really want a US merger!’

The talks come after last year having gone through a bruising but short courtship with the far larger Greenberg Traurig, the thrusting Miami shop which had a culture clash with BLP that could not have been more obvious if it had been heralded by fireworks.

Entering talks with the St Louis-bred Bryan Cave scales down BLP’s ambitions on the basis of getting a deal over the line, with a union looking more like a merger-of-roughly-equals than an outright takeover. The US firm is considerably larger, but BLP is certainly the more prominent brand in its home market.

Plenty would question whether BLP needs a union with a US player that would reinforce a partnership culture that is already too laid-back.

It is not a marriage to quicken the pulse, but then a maturing industry is entering the period of pragmatic transatlantic unions that leave partners on both sides of the pond scrambling to work out who they are hooking up with (Eversheds Sutherland, Gowling WLG and Womble Carlyle/Bond Dickinson). Dull mergers can be good – the tie-up of Berwin Leighton and Paisner was dull until it worked. Heralded deals often stoke the fires of partner ego and then underwhelm.

What BLP would get is greatly-bolstered resources to push forward its international agenda. The City firm has made reasonable progress in Germany in recent years and some inroads in Hong Kong, but Paris is a glaring weakness and the firm has been slow to move its real estate business into Asia.

The firms have some common ground in having sizeable property and disputes practices. The most obvious fit is in culture between the pair, which has made considerable play of experimenting with innovation and alternative business models, and both have collegiate partnerships.

Is that enough? The practice fit is hardly glove-like – as a full-service regional operator Bryan Cave has more emphasis on corporate. In recent years, BLP has tilted increasingly away from a transactional core to focus on areas like tax, private client and specialist finance lines it can cross-sell with its property team.

Mainstream corporate is just 17% of its income and property has been put back at the core of its business. Plenty would question whether BLP needs a union with a US player that would reinforce a partnership culture that is already too laid-back. Is Bryan Cave an over-reaction to the jarring culture shock that being taken over by Greenberg would have entailed?

Neither is the timing that obvious, coming close to a period in which BLP has been an indifferent performer, rather than giving it a chance to regain the sparkling form it showed during the 2000s when it did more than any firm to reinvigorate the concept of the City mid tier. Unlike then, BLP is now forced to go toe-to-toe with a string of mid-pack London rivals with broadly similar practices that have been out-gunning it. This deal certainly represents a loss of confidence in what BLP can achieve in its own right. Perhaps that is laudable realism, but it is hard to escape the feeling that BLP is selling itself short.

alex.novarese@legalease.co.uk

For more on Berwin Leighton Paisner see Solid foundations but a struggle to build – Can BLP regain the confidence of its 2000s heyday?

Legal Business

Looking stateside again: BLP in ‘surprising’ merger talks with Bryan Cave

Looking stateside again: BLP in ‘surprising’ merger talks with Bryan Cave

‘Surprising’ was the adjective frequently deployed by City partners in October when merger talks between Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) and US firm Bryan Cave were unveiled, with BLP going back to the US market 19 months after its attempts to tie up with Greenberg Traurig ended brutally.

The new candidate for a transatlantic union is closer in size and profitability to BLP compared to Greenberg and the union would create a 1,700-lawyer entity with 32 offices in 12 countries.

Legal Business

BLP’s US merger bid – a certain loss of confidence

BLP’s US merger bid – a certain loss of confidence

If nothing else, it is safe to say Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP)’s not-very-convincing claim that management was not dead set on a US merger was stretching it. Because recent news that the firm is debating a union with Bryan Cave screams: ‘We really want a US merger!’

The talks come after last year having gone through a bruising but short courtship with the far larger Greenberg Traurig, the thrusting Miami shop which had a culture clash with BLP that could not have been more obvious if it had been heralded by fireworks.

Legal Business

Back in the USA: BLP looks stateside again as merger talks with Bryan Cave confirmed

Back in the USA: BLP looks stateside again as merger talks with Bryan Cave confirmed

Nineteen months to the day since its last attempt to forge a transatlantic union with Greenberg Traurig was abandoned, Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) has today (16 October) confirmed that it is in merger talks with Global 100 firm Bryan Cave.

Subject to a partnership vote later this year, the tie-up would create a firm comprising 1,500 lawyers spread across 32 offices in 12 countries, including St Louis-headquartered Bryan Cave’s 19 US outposts and with a combined revenue of around $975m.

In a statement, BLP managing partner Lisa Mayhew said that the two firms ‘share a strong commitment to innovation in the interest of our clients’ and had ‘an unusually strong cultural fit’ as well as ‘the same ambitions for the future.’

Bryan Cave chair Therese Pritchard added: ‘If we combine we will operate without regard to geographic boundaries. Our firm would be one of only a handful of global firms operating in a one-firm structure with more than 500 lawyers in both the US and also internationally.’

Certainly the firms share similar partner profits, with BLP recording profits per equity partner (PEP) of £630,000 ($855,000) compared to Bryan Cave’s PEP of $866,000 for 2016.

A transatlantic merger had been on the cards for BLP, with the firm making a move to combine with Greenberg Traurig in early 2016. The merger, which would have created a 2,700 lawyer firm with revenues breaking £1bn, was ultimately called off with Mayhew subsequently stating there ‘wasn’t enough common ground’ between the two firms.

Foreshadowing the Bryan Cave deal, Mayhew told Legal Business in July that BLP would not attempt to build US law capacity under its own steam. The official line was the BLP was open to a US union without making it a core element of its strategy.

The firm has been in a mixed financial position of late, posting a 7% hike in revenue to £272m contrasting with an 8% fall in PEP in its 2016/17 financials.

tom.baker@legalease.co.uk

For more on BLP’s strategy, read ‘Solid foundations but a struggle to build – Can BLP regain the confidence of its 2000s heyday?’

Legal Business

Revolving doors: International firms return to hiring season with multiple City and global recruits

Revolving doors: International firms return to hiring season with multiple City and global recruits

International law firms have returned from the summer break in acquisition mode, with Berwin Leighton Paisner, Bird & Bird, Taylor Wessing, Reed Smith and Pinsent Masons all hiring in London and Asia, while Sidley, Dentons and Osborne Clarke are expanding their continental European footprint.

Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) has this morning (11 September) announced the appointment of three new international disputes partners to further strengthen its litigation and corporate risk (LCR) practice.

George Burn joins BLP from Vinson & Elkins as head of international arbitration later this month, while Gavin Margetson, formerly of Herbert Smith Freehills, has been hired to lead the firm’s regional arbitration hub in Singapore. Based in London, Richard Chalk is an international disputes and investigations partner, who was previously at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in London and Hong Kong.

BLP global head of LCR Nathan Willmott said these appointments are a direct result of a recent LCR strategy review. ‘The strategy review was an important milestone for us as a department. With so many of the team involved, it’s meant our future really is a collective effort. These hires all demonstrate our intent to get on with the job and start delivering on a global scale’.

Bird & Bird has added to its equity capital market capabilities with the hire of Clive Hopewell and Adam Carling from Charles Russell Speechlys (CRS).

Hopewell will lead the practice expansion in London, building on the Middle East contacts made while heading CRS’s operations in Bahrain. Speaking to Legal Business, he said: ‘Bird & Bird has a very substantial presence in Europe, Asia and Australia. The firm has an established office in Abu Dhabi and an established presence in Dubai. I’ll go there two or three times a year to help introduce them to clients.’

Carling has experience in Africa and has advised on mining deals on the continent. Neil Blundell, head of Bird & Bird’s London corporate group, said the hires would ‘further increase our reputation in the mining and oil and gas sectors’.

Meanwhile, Taylor Wessing turned to Paul Hastings to bring Mark Rajbenbach into its real estate team.

Keith Barnett, head of real estate at the firm – which now has more than 60 lawyers in its core London real estate group and more than 100 working on real estate across the London base – said the addition of Rajbenbach was ‘very exciting for our team, particularly in corporate real estate and the hotels area’.

Rajbenbach was at SJ Berwin & Co before joining Paul Hastings, and his clients have included Invesco Real Estate, Starwood Capital, Evans Randall, Hilton, London & Regional, Schroders and RRAM Energy.

Elsewhere, Reed Smith has hired Leith Moghli as a partner in its global private equity and investment funds practice in London. Moghli left Kirkland & Ellis in April, where he had been a salaried partner since October 2014 in the funds practice.

Pinsent Masons has appointed Chris Richardson to lead its new forensic accounting service (FAS). He joins the firm after 16 years in the fraud investigations team at EY.

In Brussels, Sidley Austin has hired Wim Nauwelaerts from Hunton & Williams. Nauwelaerts advises on EU and international data protection and privacy compliance, including preparation for the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

He told Legal Business: ‘Sidley Austin is one of the prominent firms in Brussels and I am very excited about the prospect of expanding their global data protection practice.’

Also in Europe, Dentons strengthened its M&A and capital markets practices with the addition of Shaohui Zhang, who joins as head of the China desk in Luxembourg from Allen & Overy, and Antonella Brambilla in the corporate and M&A practice in Milan from local firm Chiomenti.

Dentons Italy managing partner Federico Sutti told Legal Business: ‘In Italy we see signs of recovery in equity capital markets. Antonella has the standing and the experience to allow Dentons to play a role in this in the near future.’

Finally, Osborne Clarke has announced the opening of a new office in Stockholm, led by Fredrik von Baumgarten and Henrik Bergström. Von Baumgarten joins from his own firm Baumgarten Byström Rooth & Partners and was previously a partner at Nordic firms Hannes Snellman and Vinge, while Bergström was previously at Bird & Bird.

Simon Beswick, international chief executive at Osborne Clarke, said: ‘Not only is Sweden the third most active M&A market in Europe and growing faster than most other European economies, it’s a key market for many of our core sector clients.’

The Sweden office means the firm now has 25 international bases in Europe and Asia.

marco.cillario@legalbusiness.co.uk

Legal Business

Lawyers On Demand thinks it’s going to solve your secondee problem with its latest product launch

Lawyers On Demand thinks it’s going to solve your secondee problem with its latest product launch

Mounting client demand for secondees has long been a bugbear for City law firms, a reality that one of the most feted New Law brands is now hoping to turn into a business opportunity.

Lawyers On Demand(LOD) is today (31 August) launching a service to provide lawyers specifically for secondments to law firms for their clients, a shift from LOD’s core model of providing short-term placements direct to in-house teams.

The service – dubbed Secondment Solutions – will see LOD’s existing lawyers sent out on secondment under the banners of the client law firms, meaning that firms will not have to use their own permanent staff to meet demands from core clients. Rising demand for secondees from major plc clients has become an increasing source of tension for large law firms, depriving them of productive associates and disrupting their staff development programmes.

LOD co-founder Simon Harper (pictured) told Legal Business that Secondment Solutions has already been trialled with a few firms, including DLA Piper, for ‘quite some time’.

Harper commented: ‘Law firms have problems with client secondments. Sometimes they just do not have the available people and cannot afford to lose a fee-earner. Secondment Solutions is about making sure that the relationship between law firms and in-house clients is a positive one.’

Harper maintained that clients will be content with trading legal expertise from their law firm to LOD and added: ‘The service has gone down well. Clients seem to be open minded. In a sense they get the best of both worlds between us and the law firm.’

Aside from major banks, Harper said that clients from the TMT sector have already used the service.

The move once again highlights LOD’s drive to widen its law firm client base, which currently generates over 20% of its UK revenues. Unlike some contract lawyer rivals, which focus almost exclusively on in-house clients, LOD has been seeking to broaden its commercial base with law firms.

Though the business is still majority-owned by Berwin Leighton Paisner, LOD in November 2015 struck a deal with DLA Piper that saw LOD agree to provide contract lawyer services to the global giant.

LOD, which was launched 10 years ago, has been moving to expand internationally, in July unveiling plans to launch in the Middle East.

The business posted 15% turnover growth in its first full-year resultssince it merged with Australia outfit AdventBalance in March 2016, in what was the largest New Law merger to date, pushing global turnover to £35m.

tom.baker@legalease.co.uk