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

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

Bryan Cave’s London head talks not being ‘all singing and all dancing’ as firm hires Macfarlanes structured finance chief in City push

Bryan Cave’s London head talks not being ‘all singing and all dancing’ as firm hires Macfarlanes structured finance chief in City push

After having carried out a strategic review which will see the Global 100 firm look to create three ‘best-in-class’ international practices, Bryan Cave has hired Macfarlanes‘ structured finance and capital markets chief Rachel Kelly as part of a drive to build its financial services offering in the City.

Kelly joins from Macfarlanes after having served as head of the City firm’s structured finance and capital markets practice for four years. Before that, she was a partner in Clifford Chance’s structured debt group for 14 years, leaving to help set up Macfarlanes structured finance offering.

The hire is part of a broader plan with Bryan Cave’s London managing partner Carol Osborne telling Legal Business: ‘We are eager to grow the London financial services practice, and we have being doing just that all this year. Helena Nathanson joined in corporate trust from Reed Smith in January, and she added an associate and counsel-level hires in the second quarter.’

‘We also expect to hire support for Rachel in the near term and we are adding at the associate and counsel level in our leveraged finance practice. These hires are all part of a plan to really bolster the London office’s contribution to what is a strong US financial services practice.’

The expansion in London is part of a strategic change for the firm that in 2014 had an average of just 38 lawyers in London – and only a 12% change in headcount over five years. Osborne said: ‘We’ve just finished a strategic planning process as a firm and one outcome of that was to establish some best-in-class practices globally. We have always been strong in financial services but we want to really solidify that team as one of these feature practices for the firm.’

‘On a global basis Bryan Cave is looking to expand its footprint in the financial services, real estate private equity and investment trusts, and agribusiness and food sectors. These have been core strengths of the firm for some time with enduring client relationships and we are looking to build on those foundations. This doesn’t mean we aren’t interested in opportunities in other areas but the priority at the moment, especially in London, is on financial services.’

There will be some broadening as the St Louis-bred firm builds out in corporate trusts and leveraged finance as well. But Osborne is adamant Bryan Cave won’t over-extend: ‘As the group gets bigger, we will want to add regulatory expertise but we aren’t trying to build a full-service financial services play as it is too difficult and too slow to do that well in this market. We have looked at what our clients want and need in London and that means we are going to add along three lines: corporate trust, structured finance and leveraged finance. We are not going to try to be all singing and all dancing… that just gets too distracting for everyone.’

‘It is really important to us to have the right alignment with the US – we want to build London along parallel lines with our colleagues in America. You can’t stray too much from your core strengths, clients like to see more depth as opposed to a mile-wide, inch-deep approach. We have a uniquely collaborative culture in which around one third of our work is performed in a different office than the one where the relationship with the client originates.’

michael.west@legalease.co.uk

For more on US firms’ strategies in London see: The Third Wave – high stakes City deals for Akin and Cooley highlight changing tactics

Legal Business

Revolving Doors: Osborne Clarke, Eversheds and Bryan Cave among firms to make key strategic hires

Revolving Doors: Osborne Clarke, Eversheds and Bryan Cave among firms to make key strategic hires

Europe has been the focus of much lateral partner activity over the past week, as firms including Eversheds and Osborne Clarke make senior hires across the continent.

On 3 June, Osborne Clarke announced it is to open in Brussels with a two-partner, five-lawyer team from former Belgian ally De Wolf & Partners, led by De Wolf’s head of employment Thierry Viérin and commercial partner Stefan Deswert.

Joining them at what will be the firm’s 14th office in six countries following its expansion into Italy and Spain last year, are five associates covering corporate, commercial, competition and employment law. The team will be joined by members of the firm’s EU regulatory team and further senior appointments are in the pipeline.

Viérin said: ‘We are very excited to be joining the OC family. Our Brussels team has extensive experience of both inbound international work and domestic work, with a particular focus on northern European cross-border matters.

Elsewhere, 884-lawyer US firm Bryan Cave also on 3 May announced three partner hires across its London and Paris offices. In London, the top 60 Legal Business Global 100 firm appointed Pinsents Masons rated employment partner and chair of the employment committee of the City of London Law Society, Gary Freer, as head of its UK labour and employment client services group.

Freer, who was head of employment in McGrigors London office prior to its merger with Pinsent Masons last year, advises on all employment law including executive severance, team moves, unfair and wrong dismissal, discrimination and tribunal claims as well as transfer of undertakings (TUPE) and global mobility issues.

Across the channel, meanwhile, the firm’s Paris office has poached Dentons regional head of litigation and dispute resolution Constantin Achillas and domestic and cross-border banking partner Jean-Norbert Pontier to join its commercial litigation client group and financial services client group respectively.

Achillas’ has acted for 20 years before the French courts in complex civil and commercial cases for clients including Arch Chemicals, Bank of Scotland, Bausch & Lomb, BDO, Chartis, EADS, HDI-Gerling and Veolia.

‘Constantin and Jean-Norbert will add tremendous depth and experience to our firm both in France and the EU, as well as across other international borders,’ said Joseph Smallhoover, Paris office managing partner. ‘They will play a key role in our ongoing efforts to further enhance and expand Bryan Cave’s global reach in key practice areas.’

Also in Paris, Eversheds has appointed Hascoet & Associés insurance law expert Frédérique de la Chapelle as a partner and head of insurance in its international financial services disputes resolution team (FSDR).

De la Chapelle has an established insurance and reinsurance practice and her clients include both French and overseas insurance companies and multinational corporations.

Paris FSDR partner Rémi Kleiman said: ‘We have looked at developing the insurance practice in France further and with Frédérique, a practitioner renowned for her expertise in this area on the French market, I have no doubt that we will be able to offer clients an excellent insurance litigation service from our office in Paris.’

In neighbouring Spain, DAC Beachcroft on 31 May appointed Ruth Duque as a partner in its Madrid insurance regulatory practice, joining from the Spanish Regulatory Authority, Dirección General de Seguros y Fondos de Pensiones, where she worked for ten years overseeing legislation policy.

Duque was instrumental in the drafting of the Bill on Supervision of Insurance which, when enacted, will implement Solvency II. Enrique Gich, DAC Beachcroft Madrid senior partner, said: ‘This appointment is another step in our strategy to offer clients in the international insurance market high-quality advice in dealing with regulatory issues in Solvency II.’

In the UK, meanwhile, 350-lawyer Scottish headquartered Shepherd and Wedderburn has bolstered its City real estate capability with the hire of partners Jonathan Rickard from Addleshaw Goddard and Sally Morris-Smith from Kennedys. Morris-Smith focuses on portfolio acquisitions, financing and complex development projects, having trained at Linklaters and worked at Olswang before joining Kennedys in 2009. Rickard became a partner at Addleshaw Goddard in 2002 and his clients include Hammerson, Bayerische Landesbank and IBRC.

Shepherd and Wedderburn’s chief executive Stephen Gibb said: ‘Our real estate business has seen sustainable growth over a number of years now, and the addition of Sally and Jonathan is a clear indication of the investment we’re making in the future growth and success of both the real estate team and the London office.’

Elsewhere, specialist litigation firm Stewarts Law has appointed a new head of commercial litigation in Leeds, with the hire of former Pinsent Masons partner Mohan Bhaskaran.

Bhaskaran has focused on commercial disputes for over 14 years and has particular experience handling fraud and corruption investigations as well as complex commercial disputes involving major IT implementation projects, PFI disputes and product recall matters.

Firm-wide head of commercial litigation Clive Zietman said: ‘Mo’s appointment strengthens our current position as one of the leading commercial litigation departments. Our strategy continues to create a team comprising the very best lawyers to meet the complex needs of our clients and Mo will be a great asset heading the team in Leeds.’

francesca.fanshawe@legalease.co.uk

 

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