Legal Business

Big deal: Weil makes symbolic London play with hire of Linklaters M&A star Avery-Gee

In a rare marquee hire for Weil, Gotshal & Manges, Linklaters M&A star David Avery-Gee (pictured) is joining the US firm’s City office.

The hire is a standout move for Weil, which has failed to gain meaningful traction on lofty ambitions to bolster its corporate practice in London to support the office’s managing partner, Mike Francies, who has been acting for some time as the firm’s chief M&A practitioner.

A Linklaters lifer, Avery-Gee has been at the Magic Circle firm for 20 years, advising on complex domestic and cross-border M&A transactions and IPOs in sectors including natural resources, energy and financial services.

A protégé of senior partner Charlie Jacobs, he made partner in 2011 and also had under his belt a valuable stint on the M&A team of the investment banking division of Morgan Stanley from 2005 to 2006.

Michael Aiello, chairman of Weil’s global corporate department said: ‘David’s client-centric approach combined with his technical and commercial skills make him a perfect addition to the leadership of our global M&A boardroom practice.’

Avery-Gee had been involved in running Linklaters’ mining practice and managed several of the firm’s relationships with a number of major Japanese clients.  He was also head of the firm’s Israel practice and headed a group of partners advising clients on the consequences of the UK’s referendum decision to leave the European Union.

He has counted among his key clients Glencore, advising on such deals as its merger with Xstrata, the disposal of Las Bambas, the offer for Volcan, the acquisition of Contonga and the disposal by Glencore of 50% of the Glencore agribusiness to the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) and the British Columbia Investment Management Corporation (BCIMC).

Other mandates include ESCO, the US mining services company, on its acquisition by Weir Group; US fund manager Alinda on its acquisition of EmiTel, the Polish telecoms infrastructure company and takeover of Energy Assets Group, a UK metering business.

Avery-Gee has also acted on IPOs including the listing of Glencore on the London and Hong Kong Stock Exchanges and EVRAZ to become members of the FTSE 100.

He was interviewed for Legal Business’ ‘Rising Star’ section in 2016 and conveyed a particularly upbeat message about his life-long firm: ‘There is a feeling that we have a golden generation at Linklaters. A really strong group like Matt Bland, Simon Branigan and Dan Schuster-Woldan. Right now we have a confidence and togetherness here. We’re all very determined and we have grown up together and are very excited about where we can go with the practice.’

A spokesperson for Linklaters said: ‘We can confirm that David Avery Gee is leaving the firm after 20 years over which time he has made a valued contribution. He has been offered an opportunity that we could not give him at this time and he leaves as a friend with our best wishes.’

Legal Business

Dealwatch: Slaughters leads on Hong Kong’s £32bn LSE bid as US firms tap into mid-market

Strategic deals have continued into September after a busy summer, with firms rallying to get deals over the line before a Brexit cliff-edge threatens to become a reality.

Slaughter and May has landed a mandate to advise Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (HKEX) on a bid which, if successful, would see it acquire the London Stock Exchange (LSE) for £32bn. Partner David Watkins is leading the Slaughters team.

The proposed transaction has already sparked controversy around competition concerns as well as HKEX’s condition that any takeover would be conditional on LSE scrapping its planned $27bn acquisition of financial data business Refinitiv, a deal that was abnnounced in July.

The board of LSE yesterday (11 September) issued a statement describing the proposed acquisition by HKEX as ‘unsolicited, preliminary and highly conditional,’ confirming it continued to make good progress on the Refinitiv deal. A Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer team led by partners Andrew Hutchings and Stephen Hewes are advising LSE on the Refinitiv deal and is likely to be mandated on this latest transaction.

Meanwhile Weil, Gotshal & Manges is advising Campbell’s Soup Company on the sale of its European chips business which includes Kettle Chips and Metcalfe’s skinny popcorn to Dublin-based Valeo Foods for $80m.

The Weil team was led by corporate partners Michael Aiello, James Harvey and Mike Francies. Partners Joe Pari, Chayim Neubort and Oliver Walker are advising on the tax while partner Barry Fishley is advising on intellectual property and technology.

CapVest and its portfolio company Valeo Foods were advised by a Willkie Farr & Gallagher team led by David Arnold and included associates Andrew Gray, Amelia Doughty, Michael Grant and Gabriella Denlew. Partner Jane Scobie led on the tax aspects.

In 2017, Campbell’s bought Kettle Chips producer Snyder’s-Lane for $4.87bn. The transaction is part of the company’s strategy to focus on its core products of canned soup and snacks. This deal follows Campbell’s sale of Danish manufacturer of baked snacks Kelsen Group to Belgian holding company CTH Invest for $300m.

Campbell’s will retain the Kettle brand business in the US and other area, while Valeo takes control of its UK, Europe and Middle East operation.

Weil has advised Campbell’s on a number of transactions this year, namely the recent sale of KKR to Arnott’s. The deal is subject to customary closing conditions, regulatory approvals and consultations and is expected to close at the end of this year.

Elsewhere, Paul Hastings advised private equity firm Oakley Capital on its investment in the Italian high-end homeware business Alessi.

The Paul Hastings team was led by Anu Balasubramanian and included corporate associates David Prowse and Aimée Fabri from the London office and Juljan Puna and Giulia Fiorelli from the Milan office while Gatti Pavesi Bianchi advised on the financing aspects of the transaction.

Balasubramanian told Legal Business: ‘Given the macroeconomic climate in Europe and the political environment across the board with Brexit, I think there is concern that both the capital line as well as potential opportunities may not dry up necessarily but everything is going to potentially become a little more difficult. People are trying to get deals over the line which is probably why we had the busiest summer.’

Alessi was advised by a team from Italian firm Gattai, Minoli, Agostinelli Partners led by corporate partner Bruno Gattai and includes partners Federico BalRiccardo Agostinelli, Andrea Taurozzi and associates Jacopo Bennard and Jacopo Ceccherini.

Paul Hastings has advised Oakley Capital on its acquisition of EkonVideotel and Seagull as well as their joint venture with Admiral and Mapfre to acquire Rastreator and Acierto.

Legal Business

Revolving doors: City move for Weil as HSF adds duo in South Africa

In a quiet week for lateral recruitment, Weil, Gotshal & Manges hired from Ashurst in the City as other firms made notable moves further abroad.

In London, Weil expanded its banking and finance practice with the hire of Paul Stewart, currently at Ashurst. Stewart has experience in domestic and international finance transactions as well as leveraged acquisition finance and debt restructuring.

Weil London managing partner Mike Francies (pictured) commented: ‘We are delighted to have recruited someone of Paul’s caliber. His expertise and diverse lender practice are a perfect match for our market leading leveraged finance team.’

Meanwhile in South Africa, Herbert Smith Freehills added two partners and their teams to its Johannesburg office, for a total of 13 hires.

The hires included Nick Altini from Baker McKenzie, where he headed the firm’s competition practice, as well as corporate transactions partner Ross Lomax from Norton Rose Fulbright, who joins next month. HSF’s Johannesburg office now has three corporate partners and two competition partners.

Corporate partner Rudolph Du Plessis told Legal Business: ‘Towards the end of 2018, there was a dip from an M&A point of view but we’re expecting it to pick up in 2019. We have seen, in the first part of 2019, an increase on transactions both inbound and outbound. With an enhanced M&A activity there will be enhanced competition activity and there seems to be quite a lot of movement on the African continent in respects to competition law.’

Elsewhere, Pinsent Masons added to its life sciences and technology practice in Dublin with the hire of Michael Finn, who joins from Matheson. Finn, who led Matheson’s IT disputes group and established its life sciences regulatory and litigation practice, has experience in advising technology companies on life sciences and medical device laws, as well as IP litigation and the defence of product liability litigation.

Clare Tunstall, head of life sciences at Pinsent Masons said: ‘Pinsent Masons has a pan European team of lawyers specialising in life sciences and healthcare who advise across a range of IP, transactional and regulatory matters and Michael’s stellar reputation and experience makes him a fantastic addition to our team.’

Finally, Simmons and Simmons has hired George Vlavianos to its dispute resolutions practice in Doha, Qatar. Vlavianos joins from Bennett Jones and has a particular focus on complex energy and construction disputes with experience in advising owners, contractors and sub-contractors on contractual issues.

Legal Business

Globetrotters in Europe: Dentons and White & Case expand operations as Weil scales back in CEE again

Global players scaled up their investment in continental Europe this autumn, with Dentons launching its fourth German base and White & Case growing its French team. Meanwhile, Weil, Gotshal & Manges has shut its doors in Prague, its second office closure in central and eastern Europe (CEE) in 2018.

Dentons’ fast-growing German branch hired Taylor Wessing’s former head of competition, EU and trade, Andreas Haak, and employment partner Sascha Grosjean to lead the opening of the new outpost in Düsseldorf in January 2019. Germany managing partner Andreas Ziegenhagen told Legal Business the firm aims to have around 30 lawyers in the city in Germany’s industrial heartland, bringing the total headcount in the country to over 200.

Legal Business

Another CEE closure for Weil Gotshal as Prague team launches independent firm

Weil, Gotshal & Manges is continuing to scale back its once-potent central and eastern Europe (CEE) operations with its entire Czech Republic-based team set to spin off at the end of the year.

The New York firm confirmed today (27 November) that veteran Prague managing partner Karel Muzikář will quit after more than 25 years to set up an independent shop from 31 December alongside fellow partners Karel Drevinek, Petr Severa and Karolina Horakova.

Once the jewel in the crown of Weil’s regional operations in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the now 11-strong Prague team is to leave the firm less than a year after its 20-lawyer Budapest office joined Bird & Bird , leaving Warsaw as the firm’s only office in CEE.

Weil’s chair and executive partner Barry Wolf said the move ‘offers both the US and Czech practices the freedom and flexibility to address issues faced by them in the different business environments in which they operate‘, adding the two firms could ‘continue to work with each other when needed for client relationships‘.

The firm also recently pulled out of the Middle East, shutting its Dubai office last year.

The closures come despite Weil posting satisfactory financial results this year, its global profit per equity partner rising 18% to $3.64m amid a 10% hike in turnover to $1.39bn in 2017.

Alongside London, which last year grew revenues 33% to $165.4m, Weil has a well-regarded private equity Paris operation and two German bases in Munich and Frankfurt in western Europe.

Yet the closures in CEE are highly significant for a firm that was once one of the top international brands in the region.

Legal Business

Mayer Brown makes up four in London as Weil renews City commitment after last year’s promotion drought

Mayer Brown and Weil, Gotshal & Manges have minted four and three partners respectively in the City amid increased global promotion rounds for the US outfits.

Mayer Brown promoted 34 globally and Weil chalked up 11, with the US getting the lion’s share of promotions at both firms.

For Mayer Brown the promotions, effective from January next year, match its City commitment from last year, when the firm made up four partners as part of a 31-strong global round. However, unlike last year, London outstripped Paris where only two partners were made up.

The new London partners include two in litigation and disputes resolution, one in employment and one in banking and finance. Meanwhile only one of the new City partners is a woman, with banking and finance lawyer Merryn Craske receiving the nod.

On the gender mix, Sally Davies, senior partner of Mayer Brown’s London office, told Legal Business: ‘I’m happy with our commitment. It’s just because of the candidates, I can’t make it two and two like we did last year. We have a number of female lateral hires lined up and globally the story is very good so I’m happy with that.’

Davies added that a number of laterals in the pipeline as well as internal promotions, meant expansion would continue.

Meanwhile, Weil promoted three partners in London in a renewed commitment to the City. Last year the firm promoted no partners in London for the first time since 2010, while this year 11 partners were promoted across the firm’s Frankfurt, London, New York and Silicon Valley offices.

Private funds, structured finance, and business finance and restructuring received a partner apiece in London, with Gemma Sage being the only woman promoted. New York received the majority of the new partners, with six being made up, an increase of two from last year.

‘I am very pleased to announce this group of diverse and talented lawyers who make up our new partner and counsel class,’ said Weil’s executive partner Barry Wolf. ‘They practice across the firm’s four departments, corporate, litigation, business finance & restructuring and tax, highlighting the strength of our global platform.’


Mayer Brown London promotions:

Giles Bywater – Pensions

Merryn Craske – Banking and finance

James Morris – Litigation and dispute resolution

James Whitaker – Litigation and dispute resolution


Weil, Gotshal & Manges London promotions:

James Bromley – Private funds

Alexander Martin – Structured finance

Gemma Sage – Business finance and restructuring

Legal Business

‘Real fire power’: Weil loses banking head to White & Case’s unrelenting hiring spree

White & Case’s City hiring spree continues to go great guns with the recruitment of Weil Gotshal & Manges’ well-regarded head of banking, Mark Donald.

Donald has been at Weil for six years, taking on the head of banking role vacated by Stephen Lucas when he left for Kirkland & Ellis in 2014. Before Weil, Donald had spent 15 years at Hogan Lovells.

A leveraged finance lawyer by trade, Donald is experienced in acquisition finance, advising sponsors and banks on leveraged buyouts and mid-market transactions, as well as real estate acquisition finance and fund financing.

Eric Leicht, head of White & Case’s global banking practice, said: ‘We continue to build our leading banking practice in London, advising sponsors and lenders under both English and New York law on their most important transactions.’

He added: ‘We expect our leveraged finance work to grow as financial markets continue to evolve after the financial crisis, and Mark further strengthens our team, adding real fire power to the brand.’

White & Case has been on something of a whirlwind in the City, having gone full steam ahead with its NY-London focus and ambitions to go ‘toe-to-toe’ with the Magic Circle in London as part of a 2020 plan led by Oliver Brettle, member of the global executive committee and former London executive partner.

Brettle, London-based member of White & Case’s global executive committee, pointed to a strengthening of the banking practice this year, including through the internal promotions to partner of Richard Lloyd and Shameer Shah, and the lateral partner additions of Shane McDonald from Hudson Advisors and Sudhir Nair rom Baker McKenzie.

Other recent laterals at White & Case include high-profile infrastructure partner Simon Caridia from Herbert Smith Freehills in October and in the same month, Weil counsel Thomas Falkus as a partner for its thriving capital markets practice.

White & Case also recently added David Robertson, formerly of Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, to its arbitration practice, Royal Bank of Scotland’s former head of litigation and investigations Laura Durrant as a partner, and Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft litigation partner Steven Baker for the firm’s commercial litigation practice.

Another high-profile move from Weil to White & Case came at the start of the year in Weil’s co-head of dispute resolution, Hannah Field Lowes.

Legal Business

Life during law: Mike Francies

I was probably the world’s worst children’s entertainer. I needed a Saturday job to earn money but played football on Sunday mornings and rugby on Saturday mornings. A friend had a business that did magic tricks for children’s parties and I could fit the job around the sport. No, I didn’t dress up as a clown. I might have been a bit of a clown, but I didn’t dress up as one! I was the person at whom the children shouted: ‘I know how you’re doing that trick!’

They gave you a Fisher Price magic set. My stage name was Roger because they already had a Michael. I’m amazed you managed to find out about this – I thought it was quite a well-kept secret!

Legal Business

Deal watch: Weil and Slaughters lead on Bain’s £1.2bn esure bid as CC and RPC land House of Fraser roles

Weil Gotshal & Manges and Slaughter and May have scooped key mandates on Bain Capital’s proposed £1.2bn takeover of UK insurer esure as RPC and Clifford Chance (CC) wade into the House of Fraser saga.

Weil is advising Bain on the proposed take-private, which will see the private equity player acquire, via its Blue (BC) Bidco Limited subsidiary, all shares in the motor and home insurer for 280 pence per share. The Weil team is led by private equity partner Marco Compagnoni and senior consultant Ian Hamilton.

The mandate is significant for a firm which has historically acted for Bain in conjunction with Advent International on multiple payment processor transactions. These include the $745m acquisition of Concardis and its subsequent merger with NETS in 2017, a $1bn deal to acquire the payments units of Intesa Sanpaolo Banking Group in 2016, as well as the acquisition and subsequent London listing of Worldpay in 2015.

Compagnoni commented: ‘We have worked with the Bain team for a number of years on a range of opportunities, so it is also pleasing that this is our first announced solo deal for them.’

Slaughters, meanwhile, acted for esure in a continuation of its longstanding relationship with the company. The firm’s corporate team was led by partners John Papanichola and Robert Innes.

Papanichola told Legal Business: ‘The team is pleased to have advised esure on its London listing in 2013, its demerger from GoCompare in 2016 and now on this proposed take-private in a relationship that has spanned several years.’

A Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom team led by London corporate partner Scott Hopkins advised the joint financial advisers to Bain Capital: Goldman Sachs; Cenkos Securities and Dean Street Advisers.

The cash consideration will be funded from equity financing drawn down from Bain Capital funds as well as minority equity invested from a number of HarbourVest, Lexington Partners and LGT funds. Debevoise & Plimpton, led by partner Katherine Ashton, advised HarbourVest.

Elsewhere, the administration of UK department store chain House of Fraser last Friday (10 August) and its subsequent £90m disposal to Mike Ashley, the owner of High Street chain Sports Direct, has led to RPC and CC being added to the list of advisers.

RPC is advising Sports Direct and CC is advising EY, which is acting as the administrator of the company. The pre-pack administration came about after Chinese investor C.banner, the owner of iconic London toy shop Hamleys, earlier this month backed out of a deal to inject £70m into House of Fraser and issued a profit warning.

Earlier this year, House of Fraser had been looking at a controversial company voluntary agreement (CVA) with landlords, which would have seen several stores closed and rent reductions agreed with unsecured creditors.

To that end, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer was mandated by House of Fraser, with Kirkland & Ellis acting for the bondholders. The Freshfields team was led by restructuring partner Ken Baird and included partner Adam Gallagher, and dispute resolution partner Craig Montgomery. Kirkland has also this week been mandated to advise beleaguered UK DIY brand Homebase on its CVA, with a team led by restructuring partners Kon Asimacopoulos and Elaine Nolan. The CVA, which would see 42 stores shut, is set to be put to a creditor vote later this month.

Travers Smith, with a team led by restructuring partner Edward Smith, advised KPMG as the supervisor of the House of Fraser CVA.

The CVA took an interesting turn recently as a group of landlords, represented by restructuring firm Begbies Traynor and property agency JLL, filed a legal challenge to the proposed arrangement.

The petition in the Scottish Courts challenged ‘alleged unfair prejudice against certain creditors as well as material irregularities in the implementation of the CVA’, according to a joint statement from Mark Fry of Begbies Traynor and Charlotte Coates of JLL. The challenge was last week settled out of court.

Legal Business

‘Obviously unsustainable’: High Court intervenes to cut £900-an-hour Weil Gotshal fees

Lord Justice Leggatt of the High Court has been forced to scale back legal costs after US firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges racked up £1.5m in fees representing client BlackRock.

Investment management company BlackRock defended a case against energy firm Dana Gas last year and in November BlackRock was deemed successful on a preliminary issue. As a result, BlackRock produced an estimate of costs amounting to £408,000 and asked the court to order Dana Gas pay 60%. After Dana made seven further unsuccessful applications to the court, BlackRock again demanded 60% of its costs to be paid. Overall, it estimated its costs to be £1.47m.

But Leggatt LJ described Weil’s hourly rates as ‘extremely high’, despite conceding that solicitors were required on an ‘urgent basis’. Nine Weil fee-earners were involved in the case, with six of them charging hourly rates of over £700. The top rate was £946, while a trainee was charged out at £282 an hour.

Further, of 37 hours attending on counsel and 38 hours attending on BlackRock, over half of that time was spent by partners charging over £900 an hour. Leggatt LJ held: ‘In terms of efficient use of resources, the amount of work done by partners seems disproportionately large.’

Ultimately, he ruled the costs ‘obviously unsustainable’ and ordered Dana to pay a total of £425,000.

Weil had instructed Blackstone Chambers’ Andrew Scott. Dana was represented by Squire Patton Boggs, who enlisted One Essex Court’s Daniel Hubbard.

Excessive costs have been heavily scrutinised since The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) last year accumulated over £100m in legal costs as it defended itself against a group of shareholders who lost money following its 2008 rights issue.

In an interim judgment, Justice Hildyard stated: ‘The claimants are adamant that these costs are so unreasonable and disproportionate that only 50-60% would be recoverable on a detailed assessment: but even on that basis the figures would remain very large.’

Herbert Smith Freehills acted for RBS on the case, with a team led by partners Adam Johnson, Simon Clarke, Kirsten Massey and James Norris-Jones.

Weil Gotshal did not comment.