Legal Business

Vinter is coming: Covington boosts projects offering as former BG GC returns to private practice

Vinter is coming: Covington boosts projects offering as former BG GC returns to private practice

Covington & Burling has landed a heavyweight in-house veteran to boost its London project finance offering with the arrival of BG Group’s former general counsel, Graham Vinter, to chair and supervise the expansion of the practice.

Widely regarded as one of the standout GCs of his generation, Vinter joined BG in 2007 after 27 years with Allen & Overy (A&O), including two decades as a partner and acting as the Magic Circle firm’s global head of projects from 1996 to 2007.

Covington chair Timothy Hester described Vinter as a ‘veteran of the project finance industry [who] is highly respected worldwide for his unparalleled knowledge of the sector.’

‘We see an opportunity at Covington to build a leading projects practice that also provides synergies with other parts of the firm – in particular, arbitration, government affairs, tax, corporate, IP, and energy regulation.’

Vinter said: ‘Project finance is all about navigating complex projects involving multiple sets of interests from around the world, and Covington’s strength in policy-facing matters and diplomacy is a huge asset in this context.’

News of Vinter’s retirement from the BG Group emerged last April, and he was succeeded by Tom Melbye Eide in September 2015, who joined from Norweigan aluminium manufacturer Sapa.

The moves were confirmed before it emerged that BG was the target of a takeover by Royal Dutch Shell.

Other recent hires by Covington’s London office includes competition litigator Elaine Whiteford and disputes partner Greg Lascelles, both from King & Wood Mallesons.

sarah.downey@legalease.co.uk

Legal Business

Whiteford becomes the latest to quit KWM after sealing move to Covington

Whiteford becomes the latest to quit KWM after sealing move to Covington

Competition litigator Elaine Whiteford has become the second London partner to quit King & Wood Mallesons‘ European practice for Covington & Burling in the past week.

Whiteford (pictured) leaves KWM just three and a half years after joining from Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP). She reunites with former KWM London litigation head Alex Leitch, who joined Covington at the start of 2015 in a reboot of the firm’s City disputes practice, and last week’s recruit Greg Lascelles.

Her exit comes as a blow to KWM’s leadership, which has been working hard to halt a damaging run of partner exits in 2016, with the biggest damage coming in April when a six-partner private equity team in Paris switched to Goodwin Procter. The exits have coincided with, but are not part of, a partnership restructuring that saw 24 partners in Europe and the Middle East asked to leave in March.

Whiteford’s departure also coincides with Norton Rose Fulbright announcing today (18 July) it has hired disputes partner Paul Stothard from KWM. Stothard’s practice is based in London and Dubai.

Having started her career in Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s renowned City competition team in 2000, Whiteford left 11 years later to make partner at BLP. Her practice is based around advising corporates on investigations by the European Commission and UK competition authorities, and ‘follow on’ litigation in the English courts. One of her biggest cases at KWM saw her advise Luton Airport in a bus concessions dispute that stands as one of the few abuse of dominance cases to go to trial in England.

Whiteford becomes Covington’s third major competition hire in Europe this year, following the arrival of Kevin Coates, who headed a cartel unit at the European Commission, and Sophie Bertin, a former state aid official at DG Comp, in Brussels.

Leitch said: ‘She brings a wealth of EU litigation experience, which we see as a real asset in the current market, impacted by many developments around Europe, including Brexit related disputes, and the new class action regime in the United Kingdom.’

Law firms in the City have been gearing up for a slew of competition-based disputes following the introduction of US-style class actions in the UK late last year in the Consumer Rights Act 2015. US litigation firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan announced earlier this month it is bringing a £19bn claim against MasterCard on behalf of UK consumers hit with ‘illegal’ credit and debit card charges in one of the first claims of its kind.

tom.moore@legalease.co.uk

Read more in the feature: ‘Branded – Inside the troubled takeover of SJ Berwin’

Legal Business

Listing in London – King & Spalding carries US biotech to AIM listing

Listing in London – King & Spalding carries US biotech to AIM listing

King & Spalding’s recent recruits in the City have helped handle Californian biotech company Verseon £300m stock market listing in London while Covington & Burling advised from San Francisco.

London corporate partners William Charnley and Tom O’Neill handled the listing on the Alternative Investment Market for the Californian company with support from partners in the US while Covington & Burling advised from San Francisco. K&L Gates’ London corporate chief Paul Tetlow advised Cenkos Securities, the nominated adviser and broker to Verseon. The move marked a turnaround from the stream of European drugs companies listing in the US to raise money for expansion.

US securities specialist O’Neill joined King & Spalding in November from Linklaters last year as part of the firm’s recent expansion in the City, which has continued into 2015 with the hire of Latham & Watkins’ former European vice chair of tax Daniel Friel in March and Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson’s London disputes head Nick Cherryman last month.

The listing gives Verseon a market capitalisation of £303m with it planning to use £61m to advance its current drug programmes, expand its drug pipeline into additional disease indications and develop its drug discovery platform.

The deal follows the work done by Markus Bauman, a US securities specialist who also arrived last November from Latham & Watkins, on mobile food ordering company Delivery Hero’s $589m purchase of Turkish peer Yemeksepeti which completed on Friday (8 May 2015). Bauman worked alongside Elisabeth Baltay who was brought in from Bingham McCutchen in October 2014.

tom.moore@legalease.co.uk

Legal Business

10 weeks to respond: Cleary Gottlieb called in to handle EU competition claims against Google

10 weeks to respond: Cleary Gottlieb called in to handle EU competition claims against Google

Google’s lawyers at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton have been given 10 weeks to respond to the European Commission’s charges that the search engine abused its dominant position to favour its own price comparison service.

The saga began in 2009 when price comparison website Foundem alleged that Google had systematically lowered its ranking on the search engine and 30 other complaints followed from the likes of Microsoft and holiday websites Expedia and TripAdvisor.

Google’s defence is being handled by Cleary Gottlieb’s London-based competition partner Maurits Dolmans and Brussels-based counterparts Thomas Graf and Robbert Snelders. An in-house legal team made up of former Cleary Gottlieb associate Oli Bethell, former Herbert Smith associate Jenny Coombes and director of competition Julia Holtz are coordinating the efforts.

The complainants have instructed a number of leading competition lawyers, with Fairsearch, a consortium of 15 members, represented by Clifford Chance’s antitrust chairman Thomas Vinje and Covington & Burling’s Miranda Cole representing Microsoft and travel websites Expedia and Trip Advisor.

The European Commission announced yesterday (15 April) that its five-year investigation had concluded the search engine, which has market share of over 90% in most EU countries, has ranked Google Shopping in highly prominent positions irrespective of its merits. The Commission argues that this badly impacted on its rivals and that ‘users do not necessarily see the most relevant comparison shopping results in response to their queries’.

Google has the right to a hearing over the charges and if unsuccessful, could face a fine of up to 10% of its turnover, which in 2014 amounted to over $66bn. The Commission has also opened a separate antitrust investigation into Google’s conduct in the mobile phone market, airing concerns that its Android platform may have entered into anti-competitive agreements for applications and abused its market dominant position.

The EU’s recently appointed competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager said: ‘I am concerned that the company has given an unfair advantage to its own comparison shopping service, in breach of EU antitrust rules. Google now has the opportunity to convince the Commission to the contrary. However, if the investigation confirmed our concerns, Google would have to face the legal consequences and change the way it does business in Europe.’

tom.moore@legalease.co.uk

Legal Business

An opportunity to ‘build something’: KWM’s City litigation head Alex Leitch leaves for Covington

An opportunity to ‘build something’: KWM’s City litigation head Alex Leitch leaves for Covington

US firm Covington & Burling has bolstered its European disputes capabilities with the hire of King & Wood Mallesons London head of litigation, Alex Leitch (pictured), to its City office, as its plans to bulk up the practice this year.

Leitch is expected to start at Covington in early summer but it is still unknown whether any of his team or key clients will follow. His move, however, is indicative of Covington’s ongoing recruitment strategy within its City disputes practice with more hires expected.

A solicitor advocate who became a partner at legacy SJ Berwin in 2000, his departure comes just over a year after taking over the London litigation chief role in place of Craig Pollack, who was appointed global litigation and dispute resolution chief.

He has specialised in corporate and media-related litigation and acts for hedge funds, private equity houses, asset managers and major public companies in the financial services and private equity sectors. Recommended by The Legal 500, recent instructions includes the high-profile Crown Dilmun litigation relating to the sale of Fulham Football Club’s ground by Harrods; and he was part of the team representing Arch Financial Products, as well as its chief executive Robin Farrell and compliance officer Robert Addison, in connection with the Financial Conduct Authority’s investigation into Arch’s role as investment manager of the Arch Cru funds.

On his departure, Leitch told Legal Business: ‘I had been there for 20 years. I have nothing but respect for King & Wood and my departure is not prompted by any disaffection or lack of appetite for the combination. I met Covington last autumn and I knew they had a strong reputation for their dispute resolution practice, and while it has a great reputation in the US, there’s an opportunity to tell that story here too and build something. The second aspect was the one firm approach where it felt unified across all offices. And the crown jewel of this place is its collegial atmosphere. It has a genuine approach to partnership. Against all the hiring by US firms, and I wasn’t interested in many, those two things were the real pull.’

International arbitration partner Jeremy Wilson added: ‘The firm historically has always had a significant disputes practice. We’ve been focused on growth. Alex provides an opportunity to help us grow and develop so that we have the same offering in London as we do in other offices around the world. We certainly want a multi-partner practice in the litigation group and we intend to make more hires in the litigation and arbitration practices this year.’

The addition of Leitch follows the departure of arbitration partner duo from Covington’s City office last year, Carmen Martinez Lopez who departed to arbitration boutique Three Crowns, and Ben Holland to Squire Patton Boggs.

sarah.downey@legalease.co.uk

Legal Business

Global London: Weil and Covington sustain robust City growth as US firms expand market share

Global London: Weil and Covington sustain robust City growth as US firms expand market share

The days when London offices tended to be expensive beachheads draining profits from American parents appear to be long gone, with Weil, Gotshal & Manges and Covington & Burling joining the string of US law firms to substantially hike their revenues in the City in 2014.

Weil’s London arm saw a 10% rise in revenue to $125m in 2014 as the New York firm targeted the newer divisions of private equity clients, including credit and distressed debt desks. Last year the firm grossed $114m in the UK. The result means Weil’s 31-partner City arm was a major driver of growth as firm-wide revenue was up only 1.2% to $1.15bn.

The 300-partner firm attributed the growth to an uptick in M&A activity and the broadening of its London office beyond its buyout heartlands. ‘We’ve benefitted from having a strong range of practices, with leveraged finance and restructured finance off the charts,’ said Weil London managing partner Mike Francies.

While the firm last year lost highly regarded banking partner Stephen Lucas to Kirkland & Ellis in a much publicised transfer, Francies says the firm has focused on achieving organic growth. Having last year secured the hire of restructuring veteran Andrew Wilkinson from Goldman Sachs, the firm made London the focus of its partner promotions, with a third of the 12 made up in January being based in the City.

‘The biggest contributor to our success last year came from the broadening out of the practice. Previously it was very private equity-focused and a lot of the work, even if it wasn’t generated by the partners, was based off our private equity expertise, whereas now the work is based off funds generally,’ said Francies.

He added: ‘A lot of the big private equity funds aren’t private equity funds anyway, they have credit, real estate, infrastructure, distressed, the whole lot, and that really plays to our strengths because having a really strong finance practice, particularly in structured finance, we could attack these multi-asset managers in a number of different areas.’

Covington, meanwhile, also posted a notable rise in revenue, with its income in the City nearly 7% up to $64m. In 2013 the firm grossed $60m in the Square Mile. Covington’s 23-partner City arm accounted for 9% of its global revenue, which grew at a similar pace to hit $709m in 2014.

The results underline a three-year run in which US-bred law firms have made considerable ground in the UK. Legal Business’s 2014 Global London report, which tracks the 50 largest foreign law firms in London, found that headcount in the Square Mile in the group had risen by 6% over the previous 12 months, with the 50 largest firms employing 4,624 lawyers as a whole. Current indications are that such trends are continuing… and perhaps even accelerating.

Tom.moore@legalease.co.uk

Click here to access our 2014 Global London report

Legal Business

Go your own way: Lawyers at Covington & Burling and DLA Piper leave to launch boutiques

Go your own way: Lawyers at Covington & Burling and DLA Piper leave to launch boutiques

Having watched an increasing number of their peers depart during 2014 to launch boutique law firms, Covington & Burling‘s co-head of EU litigation and DLA Piper‘s former Middle East managing partner have quit their respective firms to set up their own boutiques.

Following last year’s launch of Three Crowns, which saw Covington & Burling’s co-head of international arbitration Gaetan Verhoosel depart to link up with three Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer partners to create an arbitration shop, the firm has been hit by the exit of EU litigation co-chief Damien Geradin to launch a competition boutique.

Geradin, a partner in Covington’s Brussels office since December 2010, has set-up Edge: Legal Thinking in what he describes as an ‘EU competition law-specialized boutique law firm aiming to deliver independent legal advice of the highest quality to corporations, law firms and institutions’. He is the third big name competition partner to depart from a major firm in the last 12 months, with Clifford Chance’s former head of antitrust Oliver Bretz leaving the firm after 15 years to launch Euclid Law in London and Olivier Fréget, the former chief of Allen & Overy’s global antitrust group, resigning to launch Cabinet Fréget – Tasso de Panafieu in Paris.

Bretz put the exits down to an increasing amount of client conflict at major law firms following the rise in companies that have formed cartels to inflate the price of goods striking immunity deals with the European Commission in exchange for information on the other members.

Tim Hester, chair of Covington’s management committee said: ‘We recognize that this new chapter of his career will give him more flexibility to focus on his academic interests, and his writing and other interests, and we wish him all the best.’

Meanwhile, DLA Piper’s Kuwait managing partner Abdul Aziz Al-Yaqout has joined the boutique bandwagon by launching a Middle East firm with the former general counsel at private equity giant The Carlyle Group, Bader El-Jeaan. With acquisitions by private-equity firms in the Middle East and Africa having surged to $6.6bn in 2014, from $141m in 2013, according the Bloomberg, the duo have launched a bank finance and restructuring, capital markets and M&A boutique in Kuwait.

El-Jeaan and Al-Yaqout have launched Meysan Partners with five lawyers and have plans in place to have a 20-lawyer team in place by the end of 2015 and to have a network of offices across the Gulf by 2020.

Al Yaqout, senior partner, said: ‘We recognized a gap in the market for high-quality, regional legal advice, led by a senior team with in-depth experience advising clients in the Middle East.’

El-Jeaan added: ‘We have quickly established a strong and enviable client list in Kuwait and our plan is to grow the firm in the next five years so that we establish a network of offices around the region to further support our clients. In our growth strategy, we will however maintain a ratio of associates to partners that is significantly below that of other firms in the region, focusing on matters that require the experience of our partners, particularly on cross-border regional transactions and high-stakes commercial litigation.’

tom.moore@legalease.co.uk

Legal Business

‘Fits our philosophy and style of practice perfectly’: Three Crowns hires its first female partner from Covington

‘Fits our philosophy and style of practice perfectly’: Three Crowns hires its first female partner from Covington

Arbitration boutique Three Crowns has hired its first female partner, Carmen Martinez Lopez, from Covington & Burling as the firm boosts its arbitration capabilities, especially in the Latin American and Spanish-language markets.

The firm has also hired a senior associate for each of its three offices in Washington, London and Paris, totalling a team of 23 associates firm wide.

Martinez Lopez will be based in London, taking up the role in January 2015, and has experience of acting as counsel in investment treaty and commercial arbitrations, both under the rules of the major arbitral institutions and ad hoc, involving a variety of jurisdictions. In addition, she is dual-qualified in civil law and common law.

Martinez Lopez joined Covington & Burling in May 2009, before which she was based in New York and Paris at Debevoise & Plimpton for three years, and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton before that for a year in Brussels.

Some of her key cases include representing a European gas major in a Spanish law ICC arbitration relating to European and African assets; and representing independent oil and gas companies in an ICDR arbitration under New York law arising out of a crude transportation agreement.

The arbitration boutique was launched in April this year and was initially set up by three senior arbitrators from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer alongside partners from Jones Day, Covington & Burling and Shearman & Sterling. At that time, the firm received some criticism for not having any female partners.

Constantine Partasides QC, founding partner, said: ‘The market has embraced our distinct business model with enthusiasm, and immediate client demand has led to this early expansion. Carmen fits our philosophy and style of practice perfectly, will be a huge asset to our clients, and a role model within our growing firm. Our new senior associates, Nick, Lucy and Agustin – each of whom is already a significant practitioner in their own right – further state our intent to providing specialised arbitration expertise to suit our client’s diversified cultural and business needs.’

jaishree.kalia@legalease.co.uk

Legal Business

Covington and Baker Botts act as Yukos minority shareholders defeat Russia

Covington and Baker Botts act as Yukos minority shareholders defeat Russia

Baker Botts was defeated again in the long-running Yukos saga as Covington & Burling succeed in having a Russian jurisdictional challenge dismissed by a Swedish court.

After a five-year wrangle over the jurisdiction of an arbitration tribunal administered by the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce, a Swedish court has dismissed Russia’s challenge that former head of arbitration at Freshfields and co-founder of Three Crowns Jan Paulsson, Toby Landau QC of Essex Court Chambers and Judge Brower of 20 Essex Street had no authority to decide a dispute brought against Russia by a group of Spanish investors. It also concluded that despite Russia’s objections, the Spanish funds should be awarded costs.

The challenge was unusual in that most states can only challenge the jurisdiction of arbitration tribunals following an award, which did not come until 2012. Russia sought a declaratory judgment action asking to declare that the tribunal lacked jurisdiction and the challenge was escalated to the Supreme Court, which decided in 2012 that the challenge could proceed.

‘The writing is on the wall. Once again, Russia has been held accountable for its actions,” said Covington & Burling’s partner Marney Cheek who represented the Spanish investors. ‘Now that the Swedish court has rejected Russia’s challenge, we call upon Russia to accept its international responsibility to compensate Yukos investors.’

Partner Jonathan Gimblett who worked alongside Cheek added: ‘This decision is significant because it suggests that Russia will have no more success avoiding its treaty obligations in appeals to national courts than it had in the underlying arbitrations.’

The tribunal was challenged in the local courts in 2009 after deciding they had authority concerning the dispute brought under the Spain-Russia bilateral investment treaty. The tribunal went on to award the investors $2m in damages after unanimously concluding that Russia expropriated Yukos, a figure that has since risen to $3m as the unpaid award has accrued interest. Covington & Burling’s Washington, DC-based partners Marney Cheek and Gimblett represented the Spanish investors alongside co-counsel Kaj Hobér of Mannheimer Swartling Advokatbyrå, Paulo Fohlin of Advokatfirman Odebjer Fohlin and Silvia Dahlberg of Advokatfirman Vinge.

London-based partner Jay Alexander of Baker Botts, which also represented Russia in its recent defeat to a group of majority shareholders that left Russia facing a $50bn bill, represented the state alongside local firm Lindahl.

tom.moore@legalease.co.uk

Legal Business

Covington and CMS lead on AstraZeneca’s £1.2bn Spanish transaction

Covington and CMS lead on AstraZeneca’s £1.2bn Spanish transaction

A London team at Covington & Burling led by corporate partner Lucinda Osborne advised AstraZeneca on a potential $2.1bn deal to purchase Spanish healthcare group Almirall’s respiratory unit in a move that sees the company add to its pipeline of asthma products. 

Osborne, who last year advised AstraZeneca on its acquisition of Bristol-Myers Squibb’s diabetes assets in a $2.7bn deal that could rise by a further $1.4bn, worked alongside London corporate partner Gregor Frizzell, the firm’s chair of international employment Christopher Walter and Brussels-based competition partner Miranda Cole. London-based special counsel James Ryan played a support role.

CMS Cameron McKenna London-based life sciences partner Sarah Hanson acted for Almirall, along with Hamburg-based CMS Hasche Sigle corporate partner Jacob Siebert.

AstraZeneca, which earlier this year rejected a takeover attempt by US pharma giant Pfizer that valued the company at £69bn, will pay an initial $875m, which could rise by $1.22bn in development, launch and sales-related milestones.

The deal sees Almirall’s subsidiary for devices in development for diseases linked to smoking and air pollution transferred to the UK firm, which will also have the right to market its newly launched inhaler for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease sufferers, Eklira.

Almirall’s pipeline of novel respiratory assets and its device capabilities further strengthen AstraZeneca’s respiratory portfolio, which includes asthma attack preventers Symbicort and Pulmicort.

Pascal Soriot, chief executive of AstraZeneca, said: ‘Our agreement with Almirall brings strategic and long-term value to AstraZeneca’s strong respiratory franchise, one of our key growth platforms. We will benefit from immediate and growing product revenues which we anticipate will be rapidly accretive to earnings.’

Jorge Gallardo, president of Almirall, added: ‘This important agreement allows us to better develop our assets and expertise in respiratory with AstraZeneca, an experienced player in this therapeutic area. It also allows us to better balance the costs, risks and returns of the respiratory business while retaining an important economic interest in its future success.’

The transaction is subject to competition law clearances and is expected to complete by the end of 2014.

Tom.moore@legalease.co.uk