Legal Business

White & Case nears $3bn mark as expense control drives double-digit PEP hike

White & Case has taken another step towards the $3bn turnover mark, posting a 4.3% increase in global revenues to $2.95bn for 2023, despite London turnover dipping 1.6% to $444m.

The international firm saw global revenues rise from $2.83bn in 2022, when London turnover stood at $451m. Profit per equity partner (PEP) increased by 12.7% during 2023 to $3.16m, while revenue per lawyer rose 6.9% to $1.16m.

Speaking to Legal Business, vice chair and former London head Oliver Brettle said: ‘While many of the global challenges which characterised 2022 continued into 2023, it ended up being a very solid year for White & Case. These record global financial results were driven by our clear strategy to grow profitability, reflecting return on investment that we’ve made in key markets, practices and industries that matter to our clients and making sure that we invest long term.’

Globally, the firm made 36 lateral hires in 2023, with London laterals including Kirkland & Ellis competition partner Michael Engel and Travers Smith tax partner Jessica Kemp. This recruitment has continued into the new year, which has already seen 15 lateral hires, including Patrick Sarch, who is rejoining the firm as head of UK public M&A after three years at Hogan Lovells.

Inigo Esteve, who has been executive partner of the firm’s London office since November last year, agreed with Brettle that 2023 was a ‘solid’ year. ‘While revenue was marginally down on 2022, it was almost identical to our record year of 2021 – I think this continues to show the strength of the office, notwithstanding what was clearly a very challenging market backdrop.’

He added: ‘The way we look at the London office is not just on a single year. If you look at the growth over a prolonged period of time, it tells the true story. Over the last five years from 2019, the London office revenue has increased by nearly 32%. That is a more accurate reflection of the importance of the office in terms of how it contributes to the firm as a whole.’

In terms of practice areas, Brettle highlighted financial restructuring and insolvency, project development and finance and capital markets as having a particularly strong year.

On why the increase in PEP outstripped the revenue increase, Brettle attributed that to firm keeping a close eye on expenses, which increased by just 1% from $1.5bn to $1.53bn.

‘It goes back to careful management of expenses,’ he said. ‘We managed expenses broadly flat – if you do that and revenues go up, then you end up with strong PEP growth. Part of the trick in any business is that there is a tendency when people are busier to grow things. You do more travel, or you add more office expenses, but we were very careful last year to manage things carefully and the PEP increase came as a result.’

Headline London work over the last financial year included advising Vue International on its recapitalisation, while the banking practice advised the Ukraine’s Ministry of Finance on a UK Export Finance-backed £26.3m equivalent loan. The firm’s disputes team also acted for UK Finance, the official trade body for the UK’s banking and finance industry, in its Supreme Court intervention in Philipp v Barclays Bank, which considered banks’ duties to customers who are victims of authorised push payment fraud.

Looking forward, Brettle remains cautious: ‘A lot of the volatile features of 2023 have continued into 2024. The macroeconomic situation is looking better, but there are still lots of reasons for caution. The year has begun well, but I know well that you don’t predict on the basis of two months anything specific for the year ahead.’

‘So, on strategy we’re focused on delivering a client service which sets White & Case apart from our competitors. We’re going to continue to focus on that and we are going to continue to invest in the US, in the practices that matter most to our clients, but we’re also going to continue to invest in places like London and in people who can deliver exceptional service.’

Legal Business

Global 100: White & Case: Global elite leader or missed opportunity?

‘Our ability to pitch top-ranked teams under both New York and English law, and where needed under the local laws to back that up, remains our USP,’ asserts Oliver Brettle, White & Case’s vice chair, underscoring what sets the firm apart.

Unveiling subdued financials this cycle, the firm’s London arm experienced a modest 1% revenue growth to $451m, contrasting sharply with the 18% and 12% revenue upticks witnessed in 2020 and 2021. Global turnover was also muted, declining by 1% to $2.83bn. However, it still signifies a substantial 57% increase over five years and outperforms the figures observed among Magic Circle peers.

Legal Business

Revolving Doors: White & Case and Proskauer make antitrust plays as Paul Hastings raids A&O in New York

Leading several high-profile moves this week, White & Case has hired antitrust partner Michael Engel from Kirkland & Ellis in London. Engel, who is dual-qualified in the UK and Germany, had been a partner at Kirkland since January 2021 and, before that, was at Sullivan & Cromwell for a decade.

Engel advises on the full scope of EU, German and UK-governed competition issues.

Speaking to Legal Business about his new firm White & Case, Engel said: ‘The firm is well placed to advise clients as they respond to toughening competition scrutiny and enforcement, such as competition authorities finding new ways to take jurisdiction over transactions falling below traditional notification thresholds and looking at new theories of harm when assessing transactions for substantive concerns.’

Elsewhere in the City, Proskauer Rose has welcomed its sixth lateral partner this year with the hire of Mary Wilks into its M&A practice from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, where she has spent almost 20 years. She will bring particular expertise in antitrust and competition law.

Wilks explained her decision to join Proskauer to Legal Business: ‘It’s a great combination, with Proskauer’s full service global platform and industry experience. It will allow the firm to continue delivering exceptional results for clients – especially as competition and other regulations are shifting and becoming more complex to navigate.’

Speaking of the market trends over the next 12 months, Wilks continued: ’It is a time of significant change and evolution in competition in foreign investment law.’

She pointed to the latest revisions to the Horizontal and Vertical Block Exemption Regulations, the EU’s new foreign subsidies regime and the UK’s Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill, published this week.

‘With all this change, you need to factor in whatever regulations are going to apply to deal planning and execution, so that you can optimise your timing and outcomes,’ Wilks said.

Also in M&A, Fladgate has hired partner Tessa Trevelyan Thomas in London from BDB Pitmans. She will bring experience working on a range of domestic and cross-border transactions, including public takeovers, private equity investments and disposals, joint ventures and reorganisations.

Meanwhile, Cadwalader has expanded its global finance practice in London with the recruit of Smridhi Gulati to co-lead its leveraged finance and private credit group. Gulati joins from Dechert in New York where she was a partner, following a ten-year run at DLA Piper.

Speaking to Legal Business, Gulati noted: ‘The firm already has a wide bench of private credit clients and is completely committed to the growth of its leverage finance and private credit practice globally.’

On trends over the coming months, Gulati added: ‘As pressure continues on the banks and the capital markets, I expect that private credit will continue to expand its share of the leveraged loan market and keep pushing into the space that was previously only open to the capital markets.’

Simmons & Simmons has welcomed CMS partner Jonathan Thorpe for its insurance practice group in London. Thorpe brings with him several years of experience as head of claims and legal counsel for managing agencies for the world’s largest insurance market, Lloyd’s of London.

Elsewhere, Paul Hastings has been busy with recruitment in the US. The firm hired John Budetti as a partner and global chair of the investment funds and private capital practice in New York. He leaves behind a 17-year long career at Kirkland and Ellis, where he has represented private fund sponsors organising funds ranging in size from $75m to $5bn.

Paul Hastings has also set back Allen & Overy’s US ambitions this week, through acquiring the Magic Circle firm’s structured credit team. New-York based partners Nick Robinson and Tracey Feng – who have both spent around four years at A&O – will lead the team, which also includes several associates.

Also in the US, DLA Piper has hired Robert da Silva Ashley as a partner in its finance group and the firm’s regional co-leader. He joined from McDermott Will & Emery where he spent two years as a partner, after spending the majority of his career as a partner at Jones Day. Da Silva Ashley will split his time between the firm’s New York and Miami offices.

Elsewhere across the globe, Rebecca Kelly has rejoined Clyde & Co as a partner in its global regulatory and investigations practice in Dubai. She initially left the firm in 2014 to join Morgan Lewis as Dubai managing partner and to lead its Middle East regulatory and disputes team.

Finally, DWF has also bolstered its insurance team in the Middle East through the hire of Victoria Clucas and Bill Evans from Kennedys. The duo will serve as insurance partners in the firm’s Dubai office.

Legal Business

Ukraine war and currency take toll as PEP drops 20% at White & Case

White & Case was another firm to post muted financials for the last year, as a bullish 2021 gave way to a 2022 struggling under the weight of a deal slowdown, inflation, high interest rates, supply chain disruptions, and geopolitical conflict.

Global revenue declined by 1% from $2.87bn to $2.83bn, and net income dropped by 11% to $1.09bn. Profit per equity partner (PEP), meanwhile, suffered a significant 20% drop from $3.5m to $2.8m. This took its PEP figure below the $3m mark crossed in 2020, and was the lowest figure reported since 2019 when it hit $2.6m.

The decline in PEP must be seen in the context of continued growth in headcount. The number of partners rose by 5% to 678, with a 7% increase in equity partners, to 390. The total number of lawyers at the firm swelled by 6%, climbing from 2,464 to 2,616.

London revenue remained broadly flat, increasing 1% from $445m to $451m. For context, the City office saw an 18% revenue hike in 2020 and a 12% uptick in 2021.

Speaking to Legal Business, London partner and firm executive committee member Oliver Brettle emphasised external shocks. ‘I think we did well to keep our revenue at more or less the same level as 2021. Of course, you don’t want to go down at all. But to drop by only 1% on what was an exceptional 2021 is, I think, quite an achievement.’

‘We had to deal with, among other things, the closure of a substantial office as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as well as the effects of the invasion on capital markets.’

Tumult in exchange rates also harmed the firm’s figures. ‘Lots of our UK work is billed in pounds, our European work in euros, our Japanese work in yen, and so on. And all of those currencies went down very significantly against the dollar.’

That headline 1% decline in revenue comes after a 20% jump in 2021  – the biggest year-on-year increase in 25 years. And this year’s $2.83bn remains significantly higher than 2020’s $2.4bn.

Brettle was keen to put the figures in a longer-term context, which has seen the firm’s revenue grow by 57% and net income by 51% since 2015, and to focus on continued investment.

‘Revenue is just one measure. Another is net profitability. And there, there was a substantial decrease. But part of that is because we continued to invest. We had significant headcount growth in 2022, in part because we had been phenomenally busy up to the end of February, and by the time we realised that things were getting a bit tougher, it still felt very close to when we’d been busy to start pulling back.’

London executive partner Dipen Sabharwal KC (pictured) took a similar longer-term view. ‘It’s gratifying that, when we look back on the last five years, we see consistent growth.’

He also took pride in the London office’s performance. ‘We’ve broken through the $450m barrier for the first time. That’s an all-time high. We were building on a boom year in 2021, and the environment really chilled in 2022. So to have grown our revenue at all, even modestly, was an achievement.’

Notably, while 2022 saw a significant drop-off in deal activity, the firm’s London corporate practice held steady. ‘If I were to single out one practice area for standout performance in London’, said Sabharwal, ‘it would be M&A. Despite the fact that deal levels were more muted, our teams in London really were gangbusters busy.’

Both Brettle and Sabharwal stressed that the firm’s strategy remains unchanged. ‘Our bread and butter’, said Sabharwal, ‘is cross-border work. That’s our sweet spot. It’s what we do well.’

Brettle echoed this. ‘Nearly half of our matters during 2022 were cross-border. We advised clients in 115 countries on matters spanning 195 countries.’

‘We are committed to our very strong presence globally. We are not ‘hub and spoke’ – we are a truly global firm. Our practices are truly integrated. We want to continue to do the right work, for the right clients, in a way that plays to our strengths as a global firm.’

Legal Business

Deals Yearbook 2022: Hyder Jumabhoy, White & Case – partner since 2019

What has been your deal highlight over the last 12 months and why?
2021 was a monumental year for White & Case’s EMEA financial services M&A practice, and for me personally. In 2021, our London M&A team advised on > $25bn of financial services M&A deals and I advised on my 65th financial services M&A matter. My highlights included representing The Co-operative Bank on its £3.2bn bank balance sheet re-calibration exercise and representing Nordic open banking platform provider Tink, on its €1.7bn sale to Visa.

Legal Business

Rocketing revenues at White & Case as London sees another double-digit boost

Ensuring that last year’s striking financial performance was no fluke, White & Case has unveiled another set of enviable results as 2021 global revenue jumped 20% from $2.4bn to $2.87bn.

London partner and executive committee member Oliver Brettle (pictured) told Legal Business that the firm’s global revenues had grown by 76% in five years, and that the latest increase marked White & Case’s largest annual jump in 25 years.

In London, the firm has maintained a similarly electric pace with turnover increasing 12% from $397m to $445m, although this is slower than the 18% growth rate recorded in the City last year. Brettle pointed to an impressive 53% boost in London turnover since 2016, and a strong recent track record of City recruitment. Last year, White & Case hired Allen & Overy litigation veteran Lawson Caisley, and in December added M&A heavyweight David Lewis from Clifford Chance.

And in terms of London work highlights, White & Case has joined many firms in riding an M&A wave in the past year, acting for Avast on its $9.2bn merger with NortonLifeLock in August. In another standout mandate, the firm assisted Hertz Global Holdings on a successful financial restructuring, providing a full $19bn payout in debt and claims while returning more than $1bn in value to shareholders.

The results made for good reading all round for White & Case, as the firm’s profit per equity partner (PEP) grew 17% from $3m to $3.5m, marginally bettering last year’s 16% increase and was coupled by a modest 6% swell in equity partner numbers from 342 to 363. Overall lawyer numbers grew by a larger margin, 9% from 2257 to 2464, meaning revenue per lawyer climbed by 10% from just over $1m to $1.165m.

It was a bumper year for White & Case in Asia, with revenues climbing by an impressive 30%. The Americas was similarly successful at 23%, while EMEA grew 15%. Brettle hailed this global influence on the firm’s results: ‘Each region has been incredibly strong; we are a truly global firm. In our last set of partner promotions, 64% were non-US-based, which really underlines the point.’

And on the people front, the firm also boasted an impressive record from its last set of global partner promotions, with 50% of those elevated in London being women, and 24% of those from the US and UK self-identifying as from an ethnic minority.

Legal Business

‘My race in big law has been run’: White & Case private equity veteran Bagshaw to depart this summer

White & Case’s high-profile private equity head Ian Bagshaw is set to leave the firm in June to pursue other opportunities outside of law.

The White & Case partnership was informed of Bagshaw’s departure in an internal announcement this morning (16 April). In a LinkedIn post published today, Bagshaw said: ‘After seven years at each of Eversheds, Clifford Chance, Linklaters and White & Case, I have decided that my race in big law has now been run.‘I have really enjoyed it all and in many ways I feel I have been completely spoiled career wise working with some of the most talented clients, as well as partners and associates that PE and law has to offer. I also leave behind a very capable PE team at W&C who I am very proud of and who have, and will, continue to make a real contribution to the firm’s success going forwards.

‘However, I hit 50 late last year and have spent the last part of lockdown wondering whether I could do something different in a post-pandemic world. I don’t think that I am alone in (re)discovering what’s important to me around work, family, charity and friends.

‘What my next step is, I don’t yet know. It’s quite daunting after being a lawyer for 25 years 24/7, but I am actually looking forward to slowing down, going offline and taking a digital detox to work this out.’

A White & Case spokesperson said: ‘We can confirm that Ian Bagshaw is leaving White & Case effective 30 June. We wish him well in the future.’

A self-confessed ‘Marmite’ character, Bagshaw’s step away from a successful PE practice comes four years after the departure of his respected co-head Richard Youle to Skadden. The move split the long-running and successful pairing, who had known each other since Youle was Bagshaw’s trainee at Eversheds in the 1990s. It was announced in 2013 that Youle would be joining White & Case with Bagshaw from Linklaters, where the pair had to build the Magic Circle firm’s private equity practice almost from scratch after the departure of Graham White and Raymond McKeeve in 2007.

They were then both named co-heads of PE at White & Case in 2015 and have been central to a strong run of form for the City office of the US firm. Two years after their arrival, the private equity group in London was already pulling in close to the £40m that the Linklaters team had been generating under their leadership.

Bagshaw’s departure will surely be counted as a loss for the firm, with insiders having credited White & Case’s rapid ascension over the past several years in part to his leadership of the private equity practice. His arrival coincided with the firm adding a raft of lucrative clients to its book, such as Mid Europa Partners, Global Infrastructure Partners, Triton Partners, Novator Partners, CVC Capital Partners, Rhône Capital, Bridgepoint and Arle.

In a 2018 Legal Business feature on White & Case’s meteoric growth, one ex-partner said: ‘The big breakthrough has been the PE practice. The firm had hardly added anyone in corporate, it had been weak. The turning point was when it started to build a proper corporate practice. Bagshaw and Youle transformed it.’  

For more, read ‘Reborn Supremacy, inside the unlikely White & Case revolution’.

For an in-depth review of Bagshaw’s career, see his ‘Life During Law’ interview with Legal Business from 2019.

Legal Business

Rude health: White & Case City revenue soars 18% and PEP cracks $3m to defy Covid

White & Case has traversed the pandemic minefield to reveal its strongest City financial results yet, with the London office increasing revenue by 18% in 2020 to $397m from $337m in 2019.

The pacey London showing comes against a backdrop of global success and proved something of a resurgence, given disappointing results in 2019 when City revenue dropped 4% amid subdued global  turnover growth of 7%.

Global turnover increased 9% in 2020 to $2.4bn from $2.18bn in 2019 and profit per equity partner (PEP) broke the $3m mark, a 16% increase on the $2.6m recorded the previous year.

Revenue per lawyer stood at just over $1m, a 7% increase on $991,000 in 2019, even as lawyer headcount grew 2% to 2,257 from 2,204 and the number of equity partners increased 3% from 332 to 342.

Notably, the results mark the successful conclusion of White & Case’s 2020 strategy, which put London and New York at the centre of its ambitions to explicitly expand in core markets.

Indeed, City expansion has been striking, with the number of partners in London growing 37% during the period of the 2020 strategy. There were 89 London partners on 1 January 2016 and 122 partners on 1 January 2021.

London executive partner, Melissa Butler (pictured), told Legal Business: ‘We have seen growth in all practice areas. The entire office has been very busy, the financial restructuring and insolvency and bankruptcy teams particularly, but also capital markets and disputes. The entire London office did well, not just down-cycle practices. We are really proud of what we have accomplished.’

Executive committee member, Oliver Brettle, noted:  ‘It has been a strong year despite the pandemic with everyone getting stuck in and working extremely hard around the globe. Our hires for bankruptcy, restructuring and SPACs [special purpose acquisition companies] work have helped sustain that success.’

Brettle called the London office ‘the strongest office of White & Case globally’, with record revenue, PEP and RPL in the City for 2020.

Butler is nevertheless wise to the ongoing difficulties posed by the pandemic. ‘2020 has been a challenging year on a deeply personal level and it is hard to separate the personal challenges from the professional success. We have prioritised our people and the financial success is the output of that.’

Brettle added that the American practice grew banking, capital markets and litigation by double-digits and that EMEA was strong across the board. Asia Pacific had double-digit revenue growth over 2019. ‘The strength and diversity of our practices and people have helped us as we navigated through with our clients,’ he said.

On the firm’s plans to return to the office post-lockdown, Butler was clear: ‘The wellbeing of our people has always been at the forefront and will continue to guide our decisions. We have proved that we can work really well remotely and really well in the office. While we are keen to get back to the office, we will only be transitioning back when it is safe to do so.’

Brettle ended on a bullish note, highlighting positive stats on gender diversity. ‘We promoted 40 partners globally, of which 38% were women and 42% of partner promotions in the US were women. Two thirds of the new partners in London were women. There has been a continued promotion of women in the partnership and that is very important to the future of our global strategy.’

Legal Business

White & Case reverts to London in 40-strong global partner promotions round 

White & Case has refocused on the City in its latest partnership promotion round, after largely overlooking London last year in an uncharacteristic move for the firm.

The firm announced today (9 October) that as of January 2021 nine lawyers in the City will be minted as part of a wider 40-strong promotion round. The London figure is a marked increase on last year, when just three lawyers received the nod in the City with other jurisdictions prioritised. 

‘What really matters is the long-term figure, and we continue to grow and build in London,’ executive committee member Oliver Brettle (pictured) told Legal Business. ‘Our aim is always to continue to promote the best to partnership and that is what we have done.’

It was finance and M&A which received the lion’s share of this year’s round in London. Deji Adegoke has been promoted to the firm’s global project development and finance practice alongside Kamran Ahmad; Nicola Chapman has been named partner in global debt finance; Margot Lindsay has been promoted to partner in the firm’s M&A practice alongside James Pullen; and Morvyn Radlow will become a partner in the firm’s global financial restructuring and insolvency practice.

In addition, the firm promoted Nicole Vella to its global M&A practice, and Jenna Rennie and Swati Tripathi to its global commercial litigation practice, all in London.

Including the latest cohort, since the start of 2017, White & Case has made up 39 London lawyers to partner and hired 25 strategic lateral partners during the same period. Over the past five years the number of partners in London has increased by nearly 50% from 80 to 118. Elsewhere, 12 new partners were made up in the US, five in Germany, four in Paris, and two in Cairo.

Regarding the firm’s wider hopes for the year, London executive partner Melissa Butler told Legal Business: ‘Obviously there are very choppy waters ahead, the only certainty right now is uncertainty, given the last couple years have been dominated by Brexit and now Covid. We are now trying to close the year and our 2020 strategy in a strong way and leverage that into the future.’

The firm also recently announced its new City legal salaries, which saw increases across the board. First year trainees can now expect a salary of £50,000 rising to £55,000 in their second years, an increase on £48,000 and £53,000 respectively. Meanwhile, the firm’s NQ salary received a significant bump, rising from £105,000 to £130,000. This figure will rise to £137,500 a year after qualification before rising again to £150,000.

Legal Business

Sponsored briefing: A cultural shift – has the fallout from the financial crisis changed corporate culture in financial services or is there still work to be done?

Zeena Saleh, associate, and Chris Brennan, partner, at White & Case on corporate culture

The concept of corporate culture was the focus of much discussion at the Legal Business Financial Regulatory and Disputes Summit 2020 (the Summit). Since the 2007/08 financial crisis, culture is a concept that has become an increasingly important priority for financial services firms and conduct regulators across the globe. There is no doubt that firms and their senior managers are more aware of the importance of ensuring a good corporate culture throughout their business. However, with more reports of financial and non-financial misconduct within the market, it seems likely that regulators will consider further work needs to be done.