Legal Business

Reversal of fortunes – how three mid-tiers outgunned the City elite for a decade

Reversal of fortunes – how three mid-tiers outgunned the City elite for a decade

It is dominated by mid-sized firms while global players and City leaders lag far behind. Watson Farley & Williams (WFW) sits in the third spot. You must scroll down nearly 40 positions before finding the likes of Linklaters and Clifford Chance.

It is not the chart for revenue, profits or partner earnings. It is a table of major British law firms’ organic growth over the last ten years, marking the period since the financial crisis.

Legal Business

Watson Farley hires disputes partner from Ropes to widen finance coverage

Watson Farley hires disputes partner from Ropes to widen finance coverage

Expansive City player Watson Farley & Williams (WFW) has bolstered its disputes practice with the hire of regulatory specialist Thomas Ross from Ropes & Gray.

Andrew Savage, head of litigation and arbitration at WFW, told Legal Business that Ross will start in his new role on Monday (4 December).

Ropes & Gray had previously hired Ross as a partner in April 2015 to spearhead the Boston-bred firm’s City-based commercial litigation practice some five years after its launch in London. He was previously a partner at K&L Gates, focused on finance, asset management and pension-related disputes.

The new hire is part of an effort by WFW to build out its finance disputes practice, with a particular emphasis on white collar and regulatory matters.

WFW has been one of the most expansive City law firms of recent years, hiking turnover by 60% since 2012 to hit nearly £160m. The 145-partner law firm remains best known for its shipping finance, transport and energy work, though financial regulatory remains one of the most in-demand areas for law firms.

‘Watson Farley has a track record of finance litigation and Thomas Ross will help us develop this further,’ said Savage. ‘He has a strong track record in advising on white collar and regulatory matters and he will help bolster this expertise for the firm – along with our competition litigation and antitrust capabilities – to meet growing client demand.’

Ropes has seen something of a changing of the guard at its City arm in the last 18 months with a number of UK partners moving to other firms. Among them are finance duo Mark Wesseldine and Fergus Wheeler, who joined King & Spalding, and securities specialist Chris McGarry, who left for White & Case. Ropes has nevertheless been one of the most upwardly-mobile players in the US in recent years with the 1,150-lawyer outfit generating $1.49bn in the 2016 financial year, enough to put it in the US top 20.

nathalie.tidman@legalease.co.uk

For more on Ropes & Gray’s City arm see this year’s analysis piece (£)

Legal Business

Sector focus vindicated for Watson Farley & Williams as it maintains pace with 13% H1 revenue surge

Sector focus vindicated for Watson Farley & Williams as it maintains pace with 13% H1 revenue surge

After quietly establishing itself as one of the LB100’s strongest performers in the last financial year, Watson Farley & Williams (WFW) has recorded a 13% jump in its 2017/18 half-year revenues.

Turnover for the first half of the financial year to 31 October has grown to £76.1m, which is up from £67.6m on the previous year. WFW co-managing partner Chris Lowe (pictured) argued that the strong result was ‘clear evidence of the success of our industry sector-focused model despite a challenging macro-economic environment.’

The firm has historic strength in its principal areas of transport, energy and real estate and was able to pick up a significant mandate in July, advising a group of 27 international and local banks acting as financiers on a $14bn merger between shipping giants Hapag-Lloyd and United Arab Shipping Company (UASC).

In a statement, co-managing partner Lothar Wegener added: ‘The considerable investment the firm has made into our business services over the past few years, alongside our strategy of targeted lateral hiring of high-calibre lawyers in our specialist sectors of transport, energy and real estate, continue to pay off.’

The half-year results build on positive figures from the last full financial year, where global revenues jumped 20% from £131.2m to £159.8m. At the time, Lowe said that around 10% of the growth was in real terms, while the remaining 10% was due to exchange rate fluctuations. Lowe also confirmed that the firm’s profit per equity partner (PEP) increased from around £500,000 in 2016 to £600,000 in 2017.

However, WFW has not been able to match the half-year performance of fellow mid-tier pacesetter Fieldfisher, which this month announced a strong 20% rise in H1 turnover from £64.1m to £76.8m.

Fieldfisher also excelled in its full-year financial performance for 2016/17, becoming the best-performing firm for revenue growth year-on-year in the LB100, with turnover up 36% to £165m.

tom.baker@legalease.co.uk

 

 

Legal Business

Watson Farley to retain all its qualifying trainees as Mishcon’s rate falls to 64%

Watson Farley to retain all its qualifying trainees as Mishcon’s rate falls to 64%

Watson Farley and Williams will retain 100% of its autumn 2017 qualifying trainees, while Mishcon de Reya‘s rate of retention has dipped below 80% for the first time in three years.

All of Watson Farley’s 15 final-year trainees will stay at the firm on permanent newly-qualified lawyer (NQ) contracts, marking a modest improvement over last year’s autumn trainee retention rate when 13 out of 14 or 93% of its trainees were kept on.

The NQs will be retained across Watson Farley’s practice areas; four in energy, three in asset finance and corporate, and one each in litigation, real estate, tax, employment and finance.

Watson Farley’s graduate recruitment and development manager Lucie Rees said that the firm’s 100% retention rate was ‘particularly exciting’ and that ‘we have always been pleased that we have kept on a high percentage of our qualifying trainees over the years.’

Mishcon’s trainee retention rates dropped from its autumn trainee retention last year, when all 11 trainees were kept on. This year, the firm has retained nine out of a group of 14, equalling just 64%.

In a statement, Mishcon said: ‘We are constantly testing and improving our recruitment procedures. It’s disappointing that retention is lower this year – in the previous three years it has been over 80%. But we are confident that our evolving strategy will help ensure that the matching of trainees to the firm works well on both sides.’

A number of UK firms have announced their autumn 2017 trainee retention rates, revealing that Mishcon’s 64% rate fell below both Trowers & Hamlins and Withers, who posted 70% and 73% rates respectively.

Watson Farley posted strong financial growth in its most recent financials, with global revenues rising above 20% to £159.8m. Mishcon also recorded a strong set of results this year, with 17% turnover growth to £149.4m. The firm’s revenues have doubled since 2011/12 when Mishcon’s top line was £73.1m.

tom.baker@legalease.co.uk

Legal Business

‘Hugely complicated’: Watson Farley, White & Case, A&O line up on $14bn shipping deal

‘Hugely complicated’: Watson Farley, White & Case, A&O line up on $14bn shipping deal

Watson Farley & Williams has advised a group of 27 international and local banks acting as financiers on a $14bn merger between shipping giants Hapag-Lloyd and United Arab Shipping Company (UASC).

The tie-up will create one of the five largest container shipping lines in the world, with 230 vessels and a combined turnover of around $12bn.

Legal Business

‘Strong result’: Watson Farley posts 20% rise in global revenues

‘Strong result’: Watson Farley posts 20% rise in global revenues

In a significant improvement on last year’s financials, Watson Farley & Williams (WFW) has posted an increase in global revenues of over 20%.

The firm has seen its international revenue jump from £131.2m last year to £159.8m this year, although the firm notes that currency exchange rates have been a factor in those results.

Managing partner Chris Lowe told Legal Business that around 10% of the firm’s turnover growth is in real terms, while the remaining 10% is due to exchange rate fluctuations. He also confirmed that the firm’s profit per equity partner (PEP) has increased from around £500,000 in 2016 to £600,000 this year. Nonetheless, he said he considered the 20% growth a ‘strong result’ for the firm.

Co-managing partner Lothar Wegener also highlighted some of the headline deals on which WFW acted over the last year as a major factor in financial growth, such as the recent $14bn merger between shipping giants Hapag-Lloyd and United Arab Shipping Company (UASC).

WFW advised a group of 29 international and local banks who were acting as financiers on the deal, which will create one of the five largest container shipping lines in the world with 237 vessels and a combined turnover of around $12bn.

Dubai-based finance partner Andrew Baird led for WFW, with Allen & Overy advising Hapag-Lloyd and White & Case acted for the UASC.

The firm has been quiet on the lateral hire front in 2017, with the appointment of corporate partner Bjorn-Axel Diβars to WFW’s Hamburg office the only key hire. Diβars acts on transactional and disputes work, focusing on the oil & gas, international trade and maritime sectors. Lowe recognised the firm’s lack of lateral activity, but stated that ‘the availability of quality candidates’ has been low over the past 12 months.

tom.baker@legalease.co.uk

 

Legal Business

Revolving doors: Dechert hires in Frankfurt, Watson Farley in Hamburg, McDermott in Dusseldorf

Revolving doors: Dechert hires in Frankfurt, Watson Farley in Hamburg, McDermott in Dusseldorf

In a week of European-focused lateral hires, firms have expanded their German ranks. Dechert hired in Frankfurt, Watson Farley & Williams in Hamburg, and McDermott Will and Emery in Dusseldorf.

Separately, in London, Rosenblatts Solicitors appointed a new commercial litigation partner.

Dechert has appointed Joachim Kayser as a partner to its Frankfurt financial services team. He joined from PwC in Germany where he was head of alternative investments, asset management and regulatory.

Kayser’s practice focuses on legal and operational advice for investment funds, their asset managers, intermediaries and institutional investors on regulatory and tax matters.

Dechert’s Frankfurt managing partner, Achim Putz said the addition of Joachim and his team in Frankfurt will ‘nicely complement our existing German practices in Bonn, Frankfurt and Munich.’

Watson Farley expanded its Hamburg office with the hire of corporate partner Bjorn-Axel Diβars from Latham & Watkins to its energy and infrastructure practice, bring the team to 38 lawyers. Diβars acts on transactional and disputes work, focusing on the oil & gas, international trade and maritime sectors.

Watson Farley’s Germany head, Marcus Bechtel, said the addition of Björn-Axel [Diβars] and the ‘expansion of our German energy and infrastructure practice is an important element of the firm’s growth strategy both internationally and in Hamburg specifically.’

McDermott also bolstered its German practice in Dusseldorf with the hire of antitrust partner Daniel von Brevern. He joins from Linklaters. He has advised on cases such as Vodafone’s $10bn merger with Kabel Deutschland in 2013, and Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets on the acquisition of Open Grid Europe in 2012. He has experience in the banking, insurance, energy, pharmaceutical, healthcare and automotive sectors. His clients include Bregal Capital and Energy Exchange.

McDermott’s Germany head, Norbert Schulte said the firm’s antitrust and competition practice has ‘seen a substantial development over the last few years. We are convinced that with Daniel’s contribution this trend will continue.’

In London, litigation partner Donna Goldsworthy joined Rosenblatts from Irwin Mitchell, where she led the commercial litigation team. Donna specialises in F1 and Formula E sports, along with extensive financial services and construction experience.

Legal Business

‘Hugely complicated’: Watson Farley, White & Case, A&O line up on $14bn shipping deal

‘Hugely complicated’: Watson Farley, White & Case, A&O line up on $14bn shipping deal

Watson Farley & Williams (WFW) has advised a group of 29 international and local banks who were acting as financiers on a $14bn merger between shipping giants Hapag-Lloyd and United Arab Shipping Company (UASC).

The merger will create one of the five largest container shipping lines in the world, with 237 vessels and a combined turnover of around $12bn.

Dubai-based finance partner Andrew Baird led for WFW with support from Dubai partner Neale Downes, Hamburg partner Maren Brandes, London partner Kavita Shah and Singapore partner Mei Lin Goh.

Allen & Overy (A&O) and Ince & Co acted for Hapag-Lloyd in the deal, while White & Case provided advice to the UASC. White & Case’s team was co-led by New York partner Chris Frampton and London partner Alison Weal, with partners Michiel Visser and Roger Kiem.

Sami Chowdhury and Jan Hungar acted for Ince & Co and Frankfurt partner Bianca Engelmann led for A&O.

Baird told Legal Business that WFW began working on the deal around eight months ago, commenting: ‘It was a hugely complicated transaction, as you can imagine.’

‘We co-ordinated a team across our Dubai, Hamburg, London and Singapore offices, so a lot of people played their part in bringing their expertise to bear,’ he said.

‘We currently have a lot of mandates of this type, but obviously this transaction is huge in its own right. We won the mandate due to a combination of our market leading position and the fact we have acted for the banks on a large number of the underlying financings in the past.’

The deal is the largest WFW has worked on this year, since landing a role on Shell’s $3.8bn sale of North Sea oil and gas assets in January.

Joe Levin led WFW in advising third party banks, as British investment firm Chrysaor Holdings bought out an initial consideration of $3bn, plus an additional potential payment of up to $600m, subject to commodity prices and $180m for future oil and gas finds.

White & Case partners Ian Bagshaw and Richard Jones advised Harbour Energy Limited, an investment vehicle managed by EIG Global Energy Partners, on its agreement to lead for Chrysaor on the acquisition of the oil and gas portfolio.

tom.baker@legalease.co.uk

Legal Business

WFW fills chair gap with finance partner as Dunne continues New York push

WFW fills chair gap with finance partner as Dunne continues New York push

Watson Farley & Williams (WFW) has elected shipping finance partner Nigel Thomas as the firm’s new chairman, taking over from long-serving partner Frank Dunne.

Dunne, who had acted as chairman between 2004 and 2016, moved to WFW’s US office last year.

He said: ‘Nigel is an excellent choice as chairman. He will have my full support as I continue to dedicate my time and energy to the exciting challenges of my new role in New York and in supporting the firm’s world-leading maritime practice.’

Thomas has been with the firm since 1987, specialising in maritime law. During that time, Thomas has led on a number of high-value deals, including advising global shipping company Teekay on its $1.4bn acquisition of AP Moller Maersk’s LNG shipping fleet in 2011 and advising oil company Petroserv Marine in 2015 on consolidating $1.7bn of loans.

Thomas (pictured) said: ‘I’m very much used to being an informal ambassador of the firm in my daily practice, but now with a slightly more formal addition to that as chairman. I want to be a sounding board for people’s concerns that our full-time management team may not necessarily pick up immediately.’

He added: ‘It’s also about supporting our managing partners. We have two managing partners at the firm who are very energetic. I hope to be someone senior they can bounce ideas off.’

In January 2017, WFW landed a role on Shell’s sale of $3.8bn worth of North Sea oil and gas assets, alongside Clifford Chance, Dechert and White & Case.

The LB100 firm has had a solid run of late, growing revenue by 5% to £131.2m for 2015/16, while the firm has already posted a 14% bump for the first half of 2016/17. Revenue for the first six months of the year came in at £67.6m from £59.5m.

Recent additions to the firm include litigator Joshua Sohn join as a partner from Mishcon de Reya along with three associates and one paralegal, while Michael Lubin and Jeffrey Rendin joined the firm’s real estate group as counsel. Lubin moved to Watson Farley from Stroock & Stroock & Lavan where he was a real estate special counsel, while Rendin joins from the office of the New York Attorney General.

tom.baker@legalease.co.uk

Read more: ‘This is not ad hoc’: WFW leadership duo aims to drive City specialist ahead of the pack’


Legal Business

Clifford Chance leads on Shell’s $3bn disposal of North Sea assets

Clifford Chance leads on Shell’s $3bn disposal of North Sea assets

Clifford Chance, Dechert, White & Case and Watson Farley & Williams have all landed roles on Shell’s sale of $3.8bn worth of North Sea oil and gas assets.

The deal sees British investment firm Chrysaor Holdings buy out an initial consideration of $3bn plus an additional potential payment of up to $600m subject to commodity price and $180m for future oil and gas finds.

Chrysaor was advised by Dechert M&A partner Jonathan Angell with specialist oil and gas advice from Bond Dickinson partner Paul Stockley.

Panel firm Clifford Chance were the lead advisers to Shell on the M&A side of the deal, alongside Shell’s in-house team.

White & Case partners Ian Bagshaw and Richard Jones advised energy investment house Harbour Energy Limited, an investment vehicle managed by EIG Global Energy Partners, on its agreement to lead for Chrysaor on the acquisition of the oil and gas portfolio. Watson Farley partner Joe Levin also acted as an adviser for third party banks.

The deal is the third major announcement for White & Case’s private equity team in January. Global private equity head Bagshaw led on Bridgepoint group’s recent £750m buyout of vehicle business Zenith from HgCapital. The team also advised Bridgepoint earlier this month along with Stockholm-based Nordic Cinema Group Holding AB on the $929m sale of Nordic to AMC theatres.

Shell’s divestment to Chrysaor follows its £47bn acquisition of BG Group in 2015. Slaughter and May advised Shell, supported by Cravath Swaine & Moore in the US while Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer acted for BG.

Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell reduced its core panel of legal advisers last year from 11 to six firms. Eversheds, Reed Smith Clifford Chance, Allen & Overy, Baker & McKenzie and Norton Rose Fulbright were all understood to have been appointed.

matthew.field@legalease.co.uk