Legal Business

SJ Berwin creates new COO role with hire of McKinsey’s Baumgartner

Top 25 City firm SJ Berwin has announced the hire of Rick Baumgartner as the firm’s first-ever chief operating officer (COO). Baumgartner will join on September 9 from leading management consultancy group McKinsey & Company.

Baumgartner has over ten years’ experience with McKinsey, prior to which he worked at the Australian stock exchange and has held senior roles at accountancy giants Ernst & Young and Deloitte.

The move comes as the top 25 City firm focuses on adapting to the pressures and wholesale changes facing the legal profession.

Stephen Kon, senior partner at SJ Berwin, said: ‘As the legal market continues to experience unprecedented change we believe Rick will add tremendous insight to how we not only adapt to those pressures but how we create an infrastructure that is market leading in the legal profession.’

Managing partner Rob Day (pictured) added: ‘I have been reviewing our support structure for some time and felt that with the level of operational change currently being experienced within the profession, a heavy-weight COO would give us a tremendous advantage in adapting to a fast moving market. Rick is without doubt a class act and proves that we are serious about constantly improving our business for the good of our clients and our people.’

The review of the support structure that Day refers to includes the firm’s appointment of Simon Gill as permanent financial director earlier this year after former FD Mike Giles resigned. It also hired William Stancer as head of business development from Chinese outsourcing provider Bleum last year and brought in Rachel Reid as strategy director from Mayer Brown’s London office.

Other firms to have created a COO role include Olswang in 2011 with the hire of Simon Glynn and in the same year Field Fisher Waterhouse promoted HR director Charlie Keeling to the COO role.

Legal Business

Litigation watch: SJ Berwin wins IP battle for Sky against Microsoft

Litigation watch: SJ Berwin wins IP battle for Sky against Microsoft

SJ Berwin has scored a significant victory in the important tech area of intellectual property rights in cloud data storage, successfully representing broadcaster Sky on its successful trade mark infringement claim against US software giant Microsoft.

In a dispute dating back to 2011, the High Court ruled last week that the IT giant’s ‘SkyDrive’ cloud service infringed Sky’s brand in the UK and Europe. Sky had filed a claim over a breach of UK and Community trade marks following Microsoft’s use of ‘SkyDrive’ for cloud storage solution.

SJ Berwin IP partner David Rose, who recently appeared in the Legal Business IP Roundtable, represented British Sky Broadcasting (BskyB) and instructed 11 South Square’s Iain Purvis QC and Brian Nicholson, while Redd Solicitors’ Anna Carboni led for Microsoft in defending the claim alongside Wilberforce Chambers’ Michael Bloch QC and Three New Square’s Stuart Baran.

Having been drawn out over two years, the battle finally went to the Chancery Division of the High Court for an 8-day hearing in April, and the judgment was finally published last week. Issued by Mrs Justice Asplin, the ruling held that Microsoft had infringed on Sky’s trade mark rights when it branded its cloud services ‘SkyDrive’ and this was likely to ‘confuse’ customers.

Asplin J said: ‘Damage is inherently likely where frequently the customers of a business wrongly connect it with another.’

Microsoft has since filed a counterclaim on the grounds of ‘descriptiveness for cloud storage services.’

A spokesperson for Microsoft said in a statement: ‘This case is only about the SkyDrive name and has nothing to do with service availability or future innovation. The decision is one step in the legal process and Microsoft intends to appeal.’

SJ Berwin is ranked in the third tier for intellectual property in the latest UK edition of The Legal 500 and other IP clients include Ladbrokes and Nintendo.

Legal Business

To soar or crash with an Asian giant

If you are going to finally do a global merger, it would be fitting for one of the most distinctive City practices to hook up with the great outlier of the Global 100. That is what is on the agenda for SJ Berwin as it this summer mulls an outline deal to combine with King & Wood Mallesons (KWM), the ground-breaking union between the top commercial law firms in China and Australia.

And what an outlier KWM is. When large mergers happen in the profession, a received wisdom among clients and peers soon takes hold. But since KWM was formed in March 2012, creating a 2,100-lawyer Asia-Pacific giant, consensus has resolutely failed to emerge. For some, it is a world-beater with an unmatchable position in the most powerful economic region of the 21st century. For others, it is a desperate act by two firms who had saturated their domestic markets and faced the awkward reality that their businesses won’t easily go global. After all, Australian and People’s Republic of China law travels badly and the increasingly heavily-lawyered and fee-sensitive Asia-Pacific region is currently struggling to live up to expectations.

Legal Business

SJ Berwin reveals turnover increase of 2% as partnership expansion hits PEP

SJ Berwin reveals turnover increase of 2% as partnership expansion hits PEP

SJ Berwin has become the latest leading UK law firm to release its 2012-13 financial results, with its unaudited accounts revealing an increase in revenue of 2% to £184.6m, exceeding last year’s growth figure of 1.1% to £180.1m.

Profit figures have yet to finalised but early indications suggest that net profit has risen slightly at the top 25 UK firm, although profits per equity (PEP) partner have contracted by up to 10% in light of expansion to the partnership over the past year, falling from £635,000 to around £570,000.

The firm’s management have played down the drop in PEP and Rob Day, managing partner of SJ Berwin, told Legal Business: ‘Few firms are expanding equity, we’re not fixated on building PEP.’

2012-13 has seen significant investment by the 600-lawyer firm, which hired13 partners across practices including EU, competition and regulatory, litigation, corporate and finance and promoted five lawyers into the partnership.

According to Day, SJ Berwin’s offices in Europe, the Middle East and China saw strong performances, with London, Germany and Brussels particularly singled out. ‘These strong results have been achieved alongside significant investment in our business including opening a new office in Luxemburg, which has already achieved a healthy net profit,’ said Day.

In terms of practice area, Day said there were no notable drops within any one department and private equity and funds had a particularly good year.

The year has also seen the firm act on a number of high profile corporate mandates, including for Universal Music on the sale of Parlophone Label Group to Warner Music Group for £487m in February this year.

‘We continue to prioritise our client needs as we invest in initiatives that benefit our clients and the top quality advice and support we provide to them,’ said Stephen Kon, senior partner of SJ Berwin.

These results come as SJ Berwin continues its merger talks with Asia Pacific firm King & Wood Mallesons.

Today (17 June) also saw Pinsent Masons reveal a 40% increase in turnover on the back of its merger with McGrigors in June last year.

Legal Business

Withers and Speechly union off as SJP and KWM edge closer

Merger talks between private client firms Withers and Speechly Bircham were called off at the end of May as both sides claimed the merger would not be in their best interests.

A joint statement from the firms said: ‘Following detailed discussions between the management and partnerships of Withers and Speechly Bircham, both sides have now concluded that a merger would not be in the best interests of both firms and have agreed not to pursue this further. The talks have enhanced the respect that both firms have for each other.’

Legal Business

SJ Berwin pays out delayed partner profits

As partnerships continue to take a cautious approach to profit distribution, SJ Berwin has confirmed that it has released profits that it withheld in February.

The firm’s profit per equity partner (PEP) increased by 1% between 2011 and 2012 to £635,000 with revenues up 1% to £180.1m. According to the firm, the February distribution was held back as a matter of caution in light of a large tax bill in January.

The practice is becoming increasingly commonplace – in March, Field Fisher Waterhouse withheld their partner distribution, citing the firm’s investment plans as the reason for the delay. The firm saw its PEP drop by 16% in 2011/12 to £434,000 against a revenue increase of 4% to £97.6m.

However, it is not just firms that have seen a drop or only marginal increase in PEP that are withholding profits. Ashurst held back its quarterly distributions in November last year, later making the payment in February. The firm saw its 2011/12 PEP up by 5% – respectable in a year of very mixed performances among the top 20 firms in the LB 100 – to £747,000. Dentons, meanwhile, has delayed some of its payments over the last 18 months from the 2011/2012 financial year.

Berwin Leighton Paisner – which did see its PEP drop by 5% between 2011 and 2012 – held back bonus payments to senior equity partners in March. Managing partner Neville Eisenberg said: ‘We operate a conservative and prudent approach to partner distributions which is important in the current market and expect to pay these bonuses in instalments by June 2013.’

As the Royal Bank of Scotland’s James Tsolakis told Legal Business in our April issue: ‘The old model of withdrawing all the profits is no longer fit for purpose. Most top firms have no drawn debt and are financing the business with capital.’

Legal Business

SJ Berwin is latest international arrival in Luxembourg

SJ Berwin is latest international arrival in Luxembourg

SJ Berwin announced the opening of its twelth office in Luxembourg at the start of the year, in what was described as an ‘obvious’ choice of jurisdiction for the firm given the strength of its European fund formation practice.

The firm launched its office through the hire of two new partners: former Allen & Overy (A&O) lawyer Alexandrine Armstrong-Cerfontaine and tax specialist Geoffrey Scardoni, from Benelux firm Loyens & Loeff. Armstrong-Cerfontaine said the new office would focus on corporate, finance, private equity, funds and tax, and concentrate on building its relationships across the region.

Legal Business

Positive early signs at combined firm King & Wood Mallesons

King & Wood Mallesons (KWM) has enjoyed a successful first six months as a single firm, according to Handel Lee, head of the firm’s East China offices, who added that Africa could be the next destination for the firm en route to London and New York.

The firm, which went live in March, topped mergermarket’s Asia-Pacific (excluding Japan) M&A league tables for volume for the first half of 2012, placing it ahead of Baker & McKenzie, Freehills and Clifford Chance in the table. The firm did 35 deals worth a total of $9.2bn.

Legal Business

Ashurst pushes ahead with Beijing and Seoul launches

Ashurst is preparing to move into Seoul and is applying for a licence to practise in Beijing, as the firm looks to leverage off its recent tie-up with Australian firm Blake Dawson to bulk up in Asia.

Geoffrey Green, managing partner of Ashurst Asia, said it was vital to grow the firm’s Asian presence. ‘Ashurst has been relatively lightly represented in Asia. Compared to our competitors we are pretty underweight in Asia and given the fact the world is moving further east, that’s where the growth opportunities are,’ he said.