Legal Business

Sponsored Q&A: Incorporating social value into projects – Lorraine Bellinger, head of legal project delivery at international law firm, Bird & Bird

Bird & Bird is an international law firm with over 30 offices in Europe, North America, the Middle East, Asia-Pacific, and Africa working across multiple sectors and supporting organisations being changed by the digital world or those leading that change.

Lorraine Bellinger joined the firm in 2020 to build Bird & Bird’s legal project delivery function, drawing on her private practice and in-house experience. She started her law firm journey as a PA and made a career move into legal project management 15 years ago when her then employer identified a need for a different kind of business support.

Legal Business

‘Good growth in a challenging market’: Bird & Bird notches 31st consecutive year of growth as turnover hits £495m

Bird & Bird today (3 August) posted a strong set of financial results showing growth in revenue, profit, and PEP. Turnover went up by 10% to hit £495m. This is in line with last year’s growth, though currency fluctuations mean the increase is less impressive in euros: up 9% to hit €573m, compared to euro growth of 15% last year.

Net profit increased by 8% when measured in sterling and 7% in euros, to £108.4m/€125.4m. PEP, too, ticked up slightly, increasing by 2% in sterling to £669,000 (1% in euros, to €774,000).

The firm made 19 lateral hires and 29 internal partner promotions in the last year – the firm’s largest ever promotions round.

‘The firm has achieved good growth in a challenging market,’ said CEO Christian Bartsch. ‘Our strategic focus on tech-led digital change remains attractive across many sectors and jurisdictions.’

CFO Richard Olver made a similar point: ‘It wasn’t the easiest year, so we’re very pleased to maintain our momentum.’

The automotive and energy sectors remain core area of focus. ‘Life sciences has performed exceptionally strongly, too’, noted Bartsch. ‘ESG has been another growth area, especially since we formed our global client-facing ESG group.

‘There’s huge potential in generative AI, both internally and in advice to clients. We’re really exploring that as a firm, looking at how to train our people so they have the skills they’ll need in five or ten years as this technology becomes more and more important.’

While the firm has no plans to open new offices, Bartsch was enthusiastic about international expansion in the medium to longer-term. ‘There’s a lot of opportunity in Asia and the ASEAN region. I’ve been going to India twice a year for about 15 years now, and the relaxing of restrictions there is very interesting to us. In the Middle East, too, there are lots of businesses looking to expand in areas that are key to our business.’ The firm’s Dublin office, which opened in June 2022, remains another area of focus.

Overall, on Olver’s view, ‘The momentum is continuing. In Q1 we were up on last year in the same way that we were up on the previous year last year.’

‘I don’t want to fall into the trap of coming in as CEO and doing too much too soon,’ said Bartsch, who took over from 26-year incumbent David Kerr on 31 March 2022. ‘But I’m very enthusiastic about the future.’

Legal Business

‘Supercharged’: Bird & Bird reports robust revenue and profit growth

Bird & Bird is celebrating its 30th year of consecutive revenue growth, adding 10% to its top line to £445.6m in 2021/22, up from £405.6m last year. In euro terms, this is a 15% hike to €525.3m from €455m last year.

The tech-focused firm’s net profit is also up by 22%, while PEP is up 11% to €767,000. This is the second year of rebounded growth after a dip in 2020 profits. Meanwhile, it reported net cash of €1.6m, up from net debt of €10.4m and €30.7m as of 30 April 2021 and 2020 respectively.

Christian Bartsch, who succeeded longstanding CEO David Kerr on 31 March 2022, credits his predecessor as the ‘driving force’ behind the firm’s success and resulting consistent growth across all practices in the past year.

‘It’s great that against a very challenging backdrop we continue to do so well. Our focus on technological change continues to be very attractive and this year we saw that all of our practices are supercharged and performing very well,’ he said. One area seeing particular growth in activity is its digital rights and assets group, which is capitalising on the activity in the tokens and NFT space.

Highlights of the year include representing 12 Bitcoin developers in litigation relating to ownership rights of Bitcoin, and acting for Airport Development Company Kadeco in a high-profile infrastructure project in Iceland. It also acted for leading trade association Digital Europe, whose members include 35,000 businesses including 76 global leading corporations and 40 national trade associations across Europe, on a project monitoring the implementation of the European Electronic Communications Code in all EU Member States.

In the last year, the firm also invested in people with 24 lateral hires globally, 21 partner promotions and the launch of its Dublin office in June.

While optimistic about its pipeline, the firm is alive to the challenges ahead, commented chief financial officer Richard Olver: ‘We have got to be nimble and reactive, but I am confident that the challenges ahead will provide opportunities for us.’

Bartsch echoed his optimism, crediting the firm’s strategic focus on tech and transformation for his sanguine outlook. ‘Tech isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. It is only becoming more important across all sectors,’ he noted. ‘If you look at the automotive sector, for example, we are seeing a lot of technological change. In the energy sector, particularly in terms of the issues going on at the moment, the way that the crisis is going to be solved is really through the use of technology as well. So, while there are challenges ahead, we are well positioned to take advantage of new opportunities.’

Legal Business

Taylor Wessing loses practice head as Latham targets UK mid-market for first City tech laterals

Latham & Watkins has become the latest US player to expand its City emerging company capabilities by targeting two mid-market UK firms for a double-partner hire.

Taylor Wessing has seen one of its more senior departures in recent years as its head of technology, media and communications Mike Turner decamped to the US firm alongside Bird & Bird’s corporate partner Shing Lo. Both hires, announced today (29 January), were voted in by Latham’s partnership in early January and will join the firm over the next few weeks.

‘We are the first law firm that has a compelling emerging companies and venture capital practice on the West Coast, East Coast, Europe and Asia,’ Latham’s London corporate co-chair Robbie McLaren told Legal Business. ‘On top of this, we have the ability to do M&A and equity capital transactions in these jurisdictions as well, and that’s what clients are looking for.’

Promoted to the partnership in 2016, McLaren was until this move the only City partner covering the tech space at the firm: ‘When we set out to refine our global strategy in this sector we thought: where are we underweight in this space? The answer was London.’

He added: ‘As a West Coast heritage firm we understand how [the emerging companies practice] works and the opportunities it offers. There is such a great opportunity in this space with the amount of money being raised by private companies that we thought it would make sense to hire two outstanding practitioners.’

He added that when the firm started scouting partners last summer, Turner and Lo were the two names at the top of the list.

The loss of Turner is particularly ominous for Taylor Wessing, coming a few months after the firm lost a four-partner life sciences and tech team to another US player expanding its City capabilities in the area, Goodwin Procter.

Turner had joined Taylor Wessing from fellow UK tech-focused firm Osborne Clarke in 2013 and forged relationships with a number of tech companies both sides of the Atlantic, such as Farfetch.

Indeed, the entrance of a group of US firms into the City tech space brings a new competitive threat to a number of mid-market UK firms that had so far been largely spared by the Americans’ expansion this side of the pond.

Over the last few years US giants have usually targeted the UK Magic Circle, with Latham last year hiring Clifford Chance’s real estate veteran Stephen Curtis and Linklaters’ insurance partner Victoria Sander.

However, McLaren signalled Latham had no immediate appetite for further City laterals in the tech space: ‘With the connections these two hires bring we’ll have greater opportunity to grow. At the moment this will be sufficient and I suspect we’ll be more likely to promote our own lawyers.’

Legal Business

Revenue continues to fly at Bird & Bird as PEP growth lags behind

Global traveller Bird & Bird has recorded its 28th consecutive year of revenue growth, hiking its top line 7% to £361m in 2018/19 as profit per equity partner (PEP) rose 4% to £575,000.

Announced today (9 July), the results show the pace of growth slowed down in sterling terms compared to last year’s 11% uptick to £337m, but in euro terms it slightly improved, with a 7% hike to €409.5m compared to last year’s 6% growth.

The rise in PEP was however much smaller this time around, after increasing 10% to £550,000 in 2017/18.

Revenue per lawyer remained substantially flat this year, as the UK top 20 tech-focused firm increased its headcount by around 7% from 1,192 to 1,271. Partner headcount was down by one to 309.

Bird & Bird also made further progress in reducing its sizeable debt, which at the end of April 2019 stood at €22.5m compared to €49.3m two years before. On this front however progress was much slower than last year, as the debt had already been reduced to €26m in 2017/18.

An expansive globetrotter under David Kerr’s decades-spanning spell as chief executive, the firm was comparatively more conservative this year. This month it announced the opening of a ‘work space’ in Berlin, while in September last year it added its name to the list of UK tech firms with representative offices in the Bay Area, opening in San Francisco. The firm now counts 30 offices across 20 countries.

Mandates for the firm included advising UK fintech company Earthport on its recommended takeover by Visa for £198m and videogame developer Riot Games on its partnership with Nike, as well as acting on the proposed merger between T-Mobile Netherlands and Tele2 Netherlands.

The year also saw Kerr re-appointed to his role until 2022, meaning he is set to hit a record 26 years at the helm of the firm.

Kerr commented: ‘It’s been another strong year for us as a firm, and it’s great to see how we’re gaining momentum across the business. I’m especially proud that our people are creating unique offerings that bring real value to our clients’ businesses. We have an ambitious strategy in place for the year ahead, and I look forward to working with the management team and our colleagues across our network to achieve it.’

Legal Business

Kerr to hit 26 years at 2Birds’ helm as Addleshaws re-appoints Penney as senior partner

Bird & Bird’s long-standing chief executive David Kerr (pictured) is set to lead the firm until 2022 after standing unopposed in the firm’s latest election.

Addleshaw Goddard will also stick to its leadership after Charles Penney saw off a challenge by the firm’s employment group head Michael Leftley to secure a second term as senior partner.

Already one of the longest standing leaders ever of a City law firm, Kerr first took the helm of 2Birds in 1996 and oversaw its growth from 70 lawyers in three offices to over 1,300 across 29.

Kerr told Legal Business: ‘No-one can be in a job forever. My role is about making sure we have sufficient depth in our leadership groups so that partners have a wide choice when I do step down. My appointment is not really about me: it’s about building up the leadership team within the firm.’

He added: ‘The governance processes we have are very clear: there are lots of opportunities for contested processes if people want that. The partnership clearly didn’t want that this time around.’

The firm has grown turnover for 27 consecutive years off the back of its international expansion, hitting €382.3m in 2017/18.

The latest steps in the firm’s growth saw it open its first US outpost in San Francisco and sign a co-operation agreement with Chinese firm AllBright Law Offices, as well as adding the Budapest office of Weil Gotshal & Manges.

‘We have done a big strategic push in the US and China over the last couple of years and we want to continue that.’

While he stood unopposed this time around, Kerr ran against long-standing partner and head of IT consultancy Baseline Dominic Cook in 2016.

Although Kerr won that election, less than half of the partnership voted for him three years ago as almost 30% of partners abstained while Cook received around a third of the vote. Cook left the firm in August that year.

Meanwhile, corporate lawyer Penney’s second term as Addleshaws’ senior partner will start in May and run until April 2023.

A former secretary of the UK Takeover Panel, Penney joined the firm in 2005 from legacy Lovells (now Hogan Lovells). His client work focuses on public takeovers, IPOs and joint ventures.

He first took over from former senior partner Monica Burch in May 2016.

Legal Business

Bird & Bird reports 11% uptick in first-half revenue as LLPs reveal rich pickings for ExComm

Bird & Bird’s nine executive committee members took home €6.4m in the year to April 2018, its LLP accounts showed today (30 January), as the firm announced turnover of €197m in the first half of the current financial year.

The TMT-focused shop saw pre-tax profit up 14% to €119.8m in the 2017/18 financial year, a pacier run than the 9% rise to €103.5m in the previous year. Turnover rose 6% to €380.9m.

The remuneration for chief executive David Kerr and the eight other executive committee members was up 16% on €5.5m last year, with the firm adding one member to the committee in the year.

But the UK top 20 firm’s top earner saw their compensation reduce by 4% to €1.04 from €1.08m as the number of partners rose by eight to 264. Staff costs grew 5% to €170.5m as fee-earner numbers rose by 40 to 1,099 and support staff by 55 to 906.

As anticipated by chief financial officer Richard Olver in June, the firm almost halved its debt to €27.2m compared to a considerable €49.3m in the previous year.

Olver told Legal Business the firm had ensured partners paid their capital contributions more quickly rather than building it over the years. He added he was ‘very comfortable’ with the current level of debt, ‘and so are the banks’.

The accounts also show that the firm had a €1.436m bank loan at the end of April last year, repayable in 12 monthly instalments. This was 9% higher than the loan the firm took the previous year, although Olver said it was ‘normal business’ and pointed to a ‘rather attractive’ 0.8% interest rate.

The firm also announced that its revenue in the six months between May and October 2018 grew 11% to €197m from €177m in the same period in 2017, with profit rising 13% to €59m.

‘It’s a good set of results,’ Kerr told Legal Business. ‘We are pleased at the way it’s going, particularly with all the political uncertainty around the world.’

He pointed to double digit percentage growth in Asia, the Nordics and central Europe, and said that despite concerns about the UK, the firm had seen ‘good growth’ on its home turf, too.

The firm saw a lot of GDPR-related work throughout H1: ‘Interestingly, that’s continuing even though it was implemented last May,’ Kerr commented.

Kerr added the firm was on track to post a similar performance in the second half of the year: ‘We are a very international firm, so we are less dependent on problems in one country.’

The latest moves in the firm’s international expansion included the opening of a representative base in San Francisco in September, after the firm hired former Taylor Wessing’s international US group co-head Kai Westerwelle and the acquisition of a 20-strong Budapest team from Weil, Gotshal & Manges earlier last year.

Kerr concluded: ‘A lot of people thought that corporate work would be down, with the Trump administration, Brexit and populist parties on the rise. But corporate work is holding up pretty well, as is contentious.’

Legal Business

Revolving doors: Freshfields insolvency veteran heads for the Bar as BCLP and 2Birds beef up global ranks

It has been another busy week on the lateral market, with Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer seeing other departures and a raft of international firms growing their ranks in Europe and the US.

Freshfields’ restructuring and insolvency partner Nicholas Segal will leave the Magic Circle firm after 12 years to start a new career at Erskine Chambers in September after completing the formalities to join the Bar.

A Magic Circle veteran, Segal was at Allen & Overy until 2003, when he joined Davis Polk’s New York office and became dual qualified. After joining Freshfields in 2006, he acted for Northern Rock during its 2007 crisis and has sat as a judge of the Grand Court in Cayman since 2015.

Erskine’s head Michael Todd QC said: ‘Nick is a leading figure in the restructuring arena and his expertise will further strengthen our reputation with our commercial clients as a go-to set for company and insolvency matters.’

Freshfields also lost its Vienna head of arbitration Moritz Keller to Clifford Chance (CC) last week. He will join the Magic Circle rival’s Frankfurt office.

‘Moritz perfectly complements our strong German and international team with his expertise as a trusted arbitration and litigation specialist, adding value to our clients,’ said CC’s Germany managing partner Peter Dieners.

The exits came the week after Freshfields announced the departure of high-yield partner Ward McKimm for his former shop Shearman & Sterling. He returns to Shearman’s capital markets practice where he worked for 14 years, becoming partner in 2005 and co-head of its corporate group in 2010. McKimm later joined Kirkland & Ellis before moving to Freshfields in 2015.

Elsewhere, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner (BCLP) announced the appointment of Mukul Chawla QC to lead its UK corporate crime team in London, part of the firm’s global investigations practice.

Chawla comes from Foundry Chambers and specialises in fraud and white collar crime. In the past two years Chawla has served as the lead adviser to the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) on its largest investigation, a multi-jurisdictional multi-defendant case on suspected bribery by Unaoil and a range of other companies. He also conducted the first Libor rate manipulation prosecutions in the UK.

Nathan Willmott, co-head of BCLP’s global investigations practice, said that Chawla ‘has an unparalleled insight into the approach of the SFO and other prosecuting bodies’.

On the other side of the pond, Bird & Bird appointed Kai Westerwelle to its San Francisco outpost, the firm’s first office in the States. Westerwelle had been co-head of Taylor Wessing’s international US group and partner since 2003.

He will join the firm in September as the new California base opens, advising clients on international disputes, intellectual property and data privacy issues.

Meanwhile, US giants Kirkland and Latham continued their advance both sides of the Atlantic.

Corporate partner Dennis Williams is to join Kirkland’s New York office from DLA Piper. He focuses on healthcare regulatory, compliance and transactional matters.

Latham is continuing its expansion in Germany with the hire of partner Tim Wybitbul from Hogan Lovells. Wybitul will join the US firm’s Frankfurt litigation and trial department and also be a member of its data privacy and security practice.

‘Tim is a highly regarded practitioner, with vast experience advising clients on the full spectrum of privacy law matters, and he will add further depth to our German and European practice,’ said Germany managing partner Oliver Felsenstein.

Latham has been expanding aggressively in Germany this year, scooping a number of Magic Circle partners. In May it hired CC’s banking veteran Thomas Weitkamp in Munich, while in March it brought in Freshfields’ corporate partner Tobias Larisch.

Legal Business

More growth for global traveller Bird & Bird as post-float Gordon Dadds hikes income 25%

Another year of international expansion has seen the 27th consecutive year of revenue growth for Bird & Bird as the firm posted a 6% rise to €382.3m and an 11% hike in sterling terms to £337m, as Gordon Dadds passed the £30m mark in its first results since its public listing.

In what chief executive David Kerr described as ‘strong growth’, Bird & Bird increased profit per equity partner (PEP) by 10% to £550,000 with the number of equity partners growing from 105 to 113.

In local currencies revenue increased 9% in a year in which the City-bred TMT leader opened two new branches and recruited a large team in continental Europe. Lawyer numbers are up from 1,141 to over 1,200 in 29 offices worldwide. Like-for-like growth was slightly slower than last year’s 11% rise .

‘The good thing is that we have seen growth across the board in all jurisdictions and practice areas,’ Kerr told Legal Business. ‘The focus we have is a good one because the world is seeing a lot of changes being brought by tech.’

The firm also nearly halved its borrowings to €26m after its public accounts revealed a €49.3m debt for the 2016/17 financial year . ‘The debt reduction is a combination of factors,’ the firm’s chief financial officer Richard Olver commented. ‘We didn’t raise capital at all, but we have got partners to contribute more quickly than before. We looked at how we chase clients and get them to pay on a reasonable basis. The success is visible in the figures.’

The year’s highlights included acting for Nokia in its global patent and antitrust dispute with Apple and advising on Darktrace’s $75m fundraising. ‘We are seeing more acquisitions driven in some ways by tech, in tech assets or in tech-driven businesses,’ noted Kerr. ‘There was a significant increase in data-related work for understandable reasons. I don’t think it’s just a one off. Data is becoming more important by the day, as is regulation. We have seen a big increase in the whole area of investigations driven by regulation.’

The firm also continued its international expansion over the year, signing a co-operation agreement with China practice AllBright Law Offices, opening its second Dutch office in Amsterdam  and launching a representative branch in San Francisco. Bird & Bird also brought in a 20-strong team from Weil, Gotshal & Manges in Budapest  in a move that saw the US firm shut its local operations.

Gordon Dadds, meanwhile, announced it has grown its top line 25% to £31.2m in the year to 31 March as it disclosed its first financial results since its listing in the Alternative Investment Market last August .

Profits before tax were up 23% to £3m as the firm acquired five businesses in the financial year, including tax advisory business CW Energy for £4m . Operating profits, which include partner profit shares, were up 19% £8.8m.

The group also acquired south London firm Alen-Buckley, legal and professional services business White & Black, as well as Bristol-based outfits Metcalfes and Thomas Simon. Gordon Dadds also recently opened a Hong Kong outpost and received approval to practice as a foreign law firm.

With most of the acquisitions completed towards the end of the financial year, the firm said annualised revenues were £42m.

Chief executive Adrian Biles said the group had ‘exceeded the expectations that we set for ourselves and for our shareholders’. He added that the group expected ‘significant further growth during the year’ and promised other acquisitions: ‘We continuously examine expansion opportunities and are engaged in discussions with firms in a number of other international jurisdictions. In the UK, we have a good pipeline of potential acquisitions with which we are at various stages of discussion or negotiation.’