Legal Business

The energy and renewables debate: Power shifts

Eric Knai, Eversheds Sutherland: If you look back at 2023, we have had a very depressed M&A market other than in the energy sector. If you think about the two geopolitical events that have dominated 2023, the Ukraine war and the conflict in the Middle East towards the end of the year, those are both conflicts which are in oil and gas regions and which have impacted not only production but also supply chain.

Why does that impact M&A, transactional work and projects in general? It has driven up interest rates as a result of the inflation that those crises have created. But my view is that the issues with the M&A market in 2023 do not have much to do with the level of interest rates. Most of us around this table are old enough to remember doing deals at 6%, 7%, 8% or 9%.

Legal Business

‘Ambition, confidence and opportunity’: Eversheds selects new members of its senior leadership team

Eversheds Sutherland has announced several new appointments to its senior leadership team across its practice groups and business services teams.

Succeeding Paul Worth, who is retiring at the end of December following 21 years at the firm, Mark Davenport will take on the role of litigation and dispute management practice group head. Davenport led the commercial dispute resolution team for the last three years. Taking on Davenport’s role as head of CDR is Lisa Barge, the former head of real estate litigation, whose boots will in turn be filled by Will Densham.

Meanwhile, from 1 November, James Trafford will take over from Gurjit Atwal, who has decided to step down after four years in the role of real estate practice group head. Atwal will continue to be a part of the real estate leadership team, as well taking on a new role as the firm’s social mobility partner sponsor.

Finally, Rob Bullough has joined Eversheds as the firm’s chief property officer, taking over from Paul Dunn who is retiring from before the new year after 11 years of service at the firm. Bullough arrives at the firm from UBS, where he spent the last 17 years working in leadership positions within the real estate team.

‘It will be different,’ said Trafford in an interview with Legal Business, explaining what his appointment to the role of real estate practice group head means for his day-to-day. ‘I will be responsible for co-leading our global real estate practice and forming our strategy. I have had various management roles before so I can build on that experience. I have spent 20 years in our real estate team building and leading our teams. I see myself spending more time with our partner group and I will be involved in developing our strategy.’

He added: ‘The last few years I have been leading the financial aspects of our business, which is a really important part of the practice head role. I was also involved in the recruitment of lateral hires in Dubai, Paris and Edinburgh, where I got to understand those markets really well and appreciate them as areas of growth for our business.’

Asked how he will split his time between fee-earning client work and management, Trafford responded: ‘I will maintain my client partner roles. We are very keen for practice heads to retain client-facing involvement. We are better at leading our teams if we do, as clients lie at the heart of everything. I am keen to understand what drives them and their pressures.

‘I will spend less time leading projects and working as a fee earner though. There is a long lifespan for the kind of energy and infrastructure work I do, so going forward my time is going to be weighted heavily towards management.’

Trafford detailed his approach to taking over the role from his predecessor and making it his own: ‘I have spent a while working with the two preceding practice heads and I have tried to learn from them. I have a clear understanding of what the role entails, which I see as a link between the partners and the executive team. Communication is super important, and I also care deeply about the next generation – I want to foster the right environment for them to progress.’

Probed further on what his appointment represents for the firm and its overall strategy, Trafford replied: ‘It means that real estate is core to our firm. I wouldn’t want to do the job if that wasn’t the case. We offer solutions to complex real estate mandates and we are well-placed to win and deliver competitive work. We spend a lot of time developing a one team working culture which works really well, and I have been encouraged by other firms who see us as a competitive threat to their business.

‘In three words, I would say our practice group strategy is: Ambition, confidence and opportunity.’

Legal Business

LB100 – firm profile – Eversheds Sutherland: Beyond the soundbites

Having achieved a steady rise in revenue over the past five years, can Eversheds Sutherland maintain its place in the top ten of the LB100?

‘I can’t think of a soundbite for the firm,’ dismisses one finance head at a peer firm when canvassed for his view on Eversheds Sutherland’s place in the market.

Legal Business

‘No-one has managed to build out of the key locations’: Eversheds’ Ranson discusses Asia strategy following KWM tie-up

Following the announcement last week that Eversheds Sutherland has entered into a formal cooperation agreement with Chinese firm King & Wood Mallesons (KWM), Legal Business spoke to Eversheds’ chief executive officer Lee Ranson about the arrangement and the implications for both firms.

Under the terms of the deal, KWM will exclusively refer all its clients requiring legal advice in the UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa and South America to Eversheds, while Eversheds will refer all its international clients in need of PRC legal counsel solely to KWM.

Ranson clarified the types of clients that the arrangement gives Eversheds access to: ‘It opens up all of KWM’s outbound work from China into Europe, the Middle East, South America and Africa. KWM is a very sophisticated firm in China and there is a close affinity between its practice group structure and our own.

‘There is an overlap between Eversheds and KWM with some joint clients, as well as a lot of clients that we haven’t been instructed by yet in all the main sectors we operate in, such as TMT, financial institutions and  energy, as well as large corporates who are involved in cross border M&A. These are prime examples where there will be overlaps and opportunity for us both.’

On the rationale behind the agreement, Ranson said: ‘We are a global law firm, so not only does this agreement strengthen our global offering, but it also strengthens our Asian offering. If we have clients inbound to China, we will now work with KWM to deal with the local PRC aspects. KWM’s mainland Chinese offering is substantially better than any other international firm operating in that market, which is becoming increasingly complex and sophisticated with new regulations that impact how deals are structured, so this deal has strengthened our ability to act for clients in the Chinese market.’

Ranson gave an indication of when talks regarding the agreement began: ‘Several months ago. We have been working with KWM to see the extent of the opportunity, as well as the cooperation agreement in the background. There haven’t been intensive negotiations for all that time.’

He elaborated on how international firms build a foothold in China: ‘No-one has managed to build out of the key locations and gain a foothold that way. Dentons has a local tie-up, but beyond that it is a small presence there for international firms.’

Asked why KWM wanted to enter into a cooperation agreement with Eversheds, Ranson responded: ‘Because of the depth of our relationships and offices across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and South America. KWM had relatively small offices prior to this deal, now it has a deal with one of the largest firms internationally. It is attracted to the sophistication of the offering and what we bring in terms of servicing its clients across the various sectors and practice areas.’

He continued: ‘We are a full-service law firm and have very developed capabilities in many jurisdictions that the Chinese are interested in, such as the Middle East, which Chinese investment is increasingly focusing on. To put it into perspective, we have seven offices in the Middle East, but before this deal KWM had one in Dubai. KWM wants to be able to carry out deals outside of China so that it can strengthen its own relationship with its clients and sell a deeper offering across Europe.’

As part of the new agreement, KWM will terminate all its operations in the UK, Europe and the Middle East by 31 October 2024. It is anticipated that KWM’s partners and staff will be able to integrate with Eversheds’ relevant offices ‘subject to practice needs and other considerations’.

Probed on the long-term logistics of the agreement, Ranson confirmed: ‘The intention is that KWM will effectively come out of its six locations in Europe, including London. We said a longstop date at the end of October 2024, a number of offices may be sooner than that.’

On whether KWM and Eversheds, which does not currently have and a presence in Australia, have any plans on expanding the deal to other parts of Asia and Australia through KWM’s Hong Kong and Australian Vereins, Ranson said: ‘Not at the moment. We are focused on the deal we have agreed, which is the largest agreement of its type, and we are going to put a lot of resources and infrastructure into it so that is creates as many opportunities for us and KWM as possible.’

Ranson summarised: ‘It goes back to the question of how do global law firms ensure they have true global coverage? The Asian market is evolving, and firms must come up with ways to create a client offering that reflects the opportunities and complexities in the various markets.’

Legal Business

‘The legal industry isn’t immune’: Profits rise again at Eversheds following record performance in 2022

Eversheds Sutherland has revealed a 17% increase in its net profit from £150.3m to £175.2m in this year’s financial results. The rate of growth is six percentage points lower than last year’s bumper 23% spike, reflecting the challenges which law firms currently face. Revenue also grew from £678.4m to £730.9m, matching last year’s 8% rise.

In contrast to the significant 26% jump in profit per equity partner (PEP) in 2022, this year’s performance shows a far more modest 4% increase from £1.2m to £1.29m, despite the significantly higher rate of net profit growth.

Asked why the rate of PEP growth slowed down this year, chief executive Lee Ranson (pictured) told Legal Business: ‘We have had two record years of promotions of equity partners into the business, so the number of partners has risen. PEP is a basic equation; we are investing in people and the future of the business, so the last two years reflect lots of lateral hires and promotion rounds.’

He added: ‘If you look at one year in isolation, there are always factors such as retirements and people coming in, but if you look at the overall pattern of the last five years, everything has gone up. It is not always a straight line, but the general direction of travel remains the same.’

Ranson explained which practice areas brought in the most income for the firm: ‘It has been one of those years where the breadth of the business has been a major positive for us. In the previous financial year, we saw the big transactional side of the business generate income, which this year was not as busy. However, pensions, labour and real estate all performed extremely well this year.’

He elaborated further: ‘The UK is still performing very well as it always does. The Middle Eastern practice was a standout this year, which has involved international offices rather than just a regional play. We are seeing that part of the business mature now.’

Referring to the previous year’s transactional success, he noted: ‘We did experience a decrease from the heights of last year. How quickly it recovers remains to be seen against the backdrop of rising interest rates. Our transactional team remains busy, but the industry isn’t immune to wider political and economic situations.’

Ranson also spoke about the firm’s recruitment strategy: ‘We have hired 15 lateral partners over the last year – M&A, funds and finance are key areas of our recruitment strategy, but not exclusively so. The key hire of Patrick Gerry from Ashurst as senior real estate partner in Paris has helped to connect the international offering we have, and continue our growth in Europe. Almost immediately, Patrick was involved in a multijurisdictional deal which he introduced through his own client base that he brought with him.’

Regarding the firm’s investment plans, Ranson commented: ‘We have previously announced that we put aside a £50m fund for investment, which we don’t see the need to increase while we are working on existing projects. We are looking at technological investment in things like artificial intelligence, which we are debating on as a team. We are confident that these will be dealt with by our existing cash flow.’

Asked whether the timing of the Frankfurt office launch in January was unfortunate, given the current deals market, he responded: ‘You make your decisions about where you want to be. We decided we wanted to be in Frankfurt. It isn’t a one-year investment, and we remain very excited about the practice.’

As for the next financial year, Ranson was positive: ‘We have set our budgets as all firms have done, which we want to make sure we hit, while continuing the improvement of our profit and revenue. We expect a year of continued uncertainty, but we think we will meet our targets after a good start to the year. There are many twists and turns in any financial year; this year more than most, and we expect to be thrown the unexpected in the future. Overall, we have made investments that we said we were going to make as part of our strategy, and we continue to review our year-on-year performance.’

Legal Business

Sponsored briefing: The regulatory environment for M&A transactions

The team at Eversheds Sutherland discuss some of the key themes in the regulatory environment and how these are impacting M&A parties