Legal Business

Clyde & Co advises Olswang on claim arising from £460m Esporta sale


Clyde & Co’s professional financial disputes team led by rated team head Sarah Clover is advising Olswang on a multi-million pound claim stemming from the £460m acquisition by a Halabi family trust of fitness club chain Esporta from private equity firm Duke Street Capital.

Olswang in 2006 fielded a cross-disciplinary team to advise the Ironzar III trust on the high-profile acquisition, led by corporate partners Graham Barber and David Roberts.

The fitness group fell into financial difficulty and was placed into financial administration in 2007, taken over by its lender Societe Generale in a debt-for-equity-swap in 2009 and in 2011 Virgin Active acquired its 55 sites for £77.6m.

The trust has issued a claim for damages in the Queen’s Bench division of the Commercial Court, alleging failures during the due diligence process.  In a statement Olswang said: ‘We can confirm that the claim relates to the acquisition of Esporta from Duke Street Capital (a deal that occurred in 2007). Ironzar III Trust are the claimants.

‘Proceedings were issued just before the expiry of the limitation period without any prior notification or complaint to Olswang.

‘The main focus of the claimants’ allegations about the failed transaction is advice relating to the Esporta acquisition given by another professional.

‘The complaints against Olswang are peripheral to the main allegations and are highly speculative. We have reviewed the complaints made and are satisfied that we acted appropriately. The proceedings are on-going.’

Clover is a leading name in professional disputes and she has acted for many of the top 50 law firms. In December 2012 she helped Eversheds successfully defend itself against a High Court negligence claim from Newcastle International Airport.

Roger Stewart QC and Richard O’Brien at 4 New Square are acting for the trust.

Legal Business

Revolving Doors: Olswang, Macfarlanes, Dechert, DWF and Weightmans in strategic partner hires


Macfarlanes and Dechert have made key strategic hires in the past few days while top 35, 382-lawyer UK firm Olswang has bolstered its City tax practice with the arrival of partner Andrew Quale from Eversheds.

Specialising in employee incentives and rewards, Quale has experience of advising multinational companies on the implementation of global incentive plans.

‘Andrew has already demonstrated an ability to build and develop a successful share schemes practice and team, despite a severe downturn in corporate work in the last few years,’ said Mark Joscelyne, head of tax at Olswang. The firm last week revealed a rise in revenue of 3% while profits per equity partner dropped by 4%.

This is the second partner Eversheds has lost this week, after it was announced earlier this week that equity capital markets head Neil Matthews is leaving to join Field Fisher Waterhouse in August.

Elsewhere, 289-lawyer top 35 UK firm Macfarlanes bucked the trend towards US firms tapping the UK’s finest with the hire of Shearman & Sterling real estate partner, Clare Breeze.

Breeze, whose clients include developers and investors such as Stanhope, AIG and Argent Estates, is Macfarlanes second hire from a US firm this year after taking on Akin Gump London investment funds partner Simon Thomas in February.

‘We are delighted to welcome Clare to a firm and practice area that are both thriving in these difficult markets. Real estate is a key area for us and we believe that significant opportunities exist for continued growth,’ said Macfarlanes senior partner Charles Martin.

Meanwhile, top 50 Global 100 US firm Dechert has bolstered its corporate practice in Paris with the hire of Matthieu Grollemund from fellow US firm Orrick Herrington & Suttcliffe.

A private equity specialist, Grollemund’s work includes CVC’s high profile Formula One IPO in which he has represented the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile. His clients include a range of private equity houses and hedge funds including Wendel, 3i France and Fondations Capital and US/UK based firms including Bessemer, Accel and Index.

‘We are delighted to welcome Matthieu, who will allow us to expand our corporate practice and meet the current needs of our French and foreign clients both on inbound and outbound transactions,’ said Alain Decombe, managing partner of Dechert’s Paris office.

“Matthieu’s private equity experience is very complimentary to that of our global corporate team, which should result in additional practice synergies across Dechert’s international network,” said Henry Nassau, chair of Dechert’s global corporate practice.

In other news, acquisitive DWF, which last week reported a rise in turnover of 84% to £188m, has bolstered its corporate practice in Birmingham with the appointment of Squire Sanders partner Christian Lowis. His arrival brings DWF’s corporate offering to over 100 fee earners, with Lowis himself being a public company specialist. He has experience in M&A, disposals, takeovers and corporate governance.

‘As a team providing highly valued counsel to some of Britain’s biggest businesses, it is imperative that we continue to recruit only the best to our ranks,’ said Stephen Houston, national head of corporate at DWF.

The appointment of Lowis comes after DWF confirmed a redundancy consultation at the end of last month affecting up to 80 roles across Manchester, Coventry, Teeside and London.

Having revealed a rather more modest but respectable turnover increase of 6.4% this year, UK top 50 Weightmans has continued its run of lateral hires with the appointment of construction partner Tim Mould in the firm’s London office. Mould was a founding partner of boutique firm Hannah & Mould and specialises in complex construction disputes both in the UK and abroad.

‘We are delighted that Tim is joining the firm. He is a high calibre lawyer and true specialist in his field and brings a wealth of experience in both domestic and international work,’ said Charles Tomlinson, national head of construction and engineering at Weightmans.


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Legal Business

Reports season 2013 – Bird & Bird and Olswang post healthy revenue increases

Two international firms with strong European practices and a core media focus, Bird & Bird and Olswang, have posted solid revenue increases for the 2012/13 financial year.

Bird & Bird has announced revenue growth of 6%, from £235m to £249m, marking 25 years of continuous growth. Profit figures are yet to be released although a firm spokesperson said that the expectation is that net profits will have risen again in 2012/13.

The performance was described by the firm as solid and in line with budget ‘in the face of challenging economic conditions in our major markets’. Despite these prevailing conditions the firm has continued to invest, with two new offices, two cooperation agreements and 36 new partners – 11 of which were internal promotions. The firm also confirmed that all partner payments had been made during the year.

The top 20, 885-lawyer firm identified Asia and the Middle East as key geographical drivers of growth, along with Germany.

Meanwhile top 40 firm Olswang has reported a 3% growth in revenues, from £108m to £111.3m, slower growth than the 17% it posted last year. The 410-lawyer firm said that profit figures were subject to audit, it anticipated that its net income would be at roughly the same level as last year. However, this means average profit per equity partner will be around £510,000, down from £530,000 last year.

‘Following last year’s significant increase in revenue and profits, this year was more challenging,’ said CEO David Stewart. ‘We had a tough first half, but the firm had a better third and fourth quarter, and we’re content with the overall result given market conditions. Stand out contributions from our German, Belgian and Spanish colleagues were much appreciated, and in particular our international IP and corporate practice groups had a good year.’

‘We have budgeted for a significant rise in turnover and profits this year, as our investments in new partners and offices pay dividends, and our three year plan is ambitious: we are aiming to be in the top 20 by 2016,’ he added. ‘Our international offices have increased their overall revenue contribution by 35 % this year, and international turnover is planned to be over 40% of total revenues by 2016.’

Legal Business

Stewart steps out of Goldstein shadow as Olswang hands popular head another term


TMT specialist Olswang has re-elected long-time head David Stewart as chief executive for another three years.

Before being elected chief executive, Stewart was the firm’s managing partner since 2007. He has been a driving force behind the corporate media specialist’s attempt to refashion itself as a credible international player. As important, Stewart was charged with becoming the public face of Olswang when thrusting and high profile chief executive Jonathan Goldstein announced his departure six years ago.

Stewart – who has been a popular leader internally – has overseen the London firm opening offices in Singapore last year, Paris and Munich in 2011 and Madrid in 2010.

‘The firm’s been behind us all the way, it’s a key part of the strategy,’ said Rob Bratby, managing partner of Olswang in Singapore. Despite missing out on a qualifying foreign law practice licence earlier this year, the firm is well established for TMT work in Singapore.

‘David’s re-election is a direct consequence of the clarity of his vision for Olswang and the results he has brought in his first term as CEO. The overwhelming vote in a high turnout poll demonstrates the partners’ confidence in David’s abilities,’ said Mark Devereux, senior partner of Olswang.

The 400-lawyer firm’s revenues grew by 17% in 2011/12 to £108.1m although its profits edged down by 3% to £23.2m. The firm has announced that its profit per equity partner has increased by 26% (though Olswang’s full equity ranks have been trimmed considerably in recent years).

‘The next three years will provide us with increased opportunities to grow and transform the firm in an ever-changing global market place that demands increased specialisation,’ said Stewart.

Olswang has faced mixed fortunes in recent years. The firm was hard hit by the 2008/09 recession, contributing to a stalling of growth between 2006 and 2011. However, the firm has appeared in more bullish mood over the last 18 months and is widely regarded as having built one of the strongest brands in the UK mid-tier.

Legal Business

Liberalisation of Singapore market gathers pace

The Singapore Ministry of Law (MinLaw) stopped receiving applications from foreign law firms seeking a Qualifying Foreign Law Practice (QFLP) licence at the end of August. Twenty-three firms have applied for a QFLP, with UK-based Ashurst, Berwin Leighton Paisner, DLA Piper, Olswang and Stephenson Harwood all confirming that they have applied for licences alongside US firms Jones Day, K&L Gates, Watson, Farley & Williams, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and Shearman & Sterling.

Singapore used to only allow foreign firms to work alongside domestic practices in limited joint ventures. However, in 2008 MinLaw granted six QFLPs to Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Herbert Smith, Latham & Watkins, Norton Rose and White & Case, allowing those firms to practise Singaporean law with some restrictions. The latest moves reflect the increasing interest of international firms in practising local law.

Legal Business

Rule changes put transfer pricing practices centre stage

The increased global focus of governments on tax avoidance means a handful of international law firms have been pushing their transfer pricing practices to the fore recently.

In July Macfarlanes announced the appointment of Martin Zetter to the new role of head of transfer pricing and senior economist in its tax and structuring group. Zetter joined the firm from Ernst & Young, where he was a director in its financial services transfer pricing group.