Firms scramble to offer all-in property advice

Real Estate

It seems like the same old story, but still the UK real estate market rolls on with a pace that is keeping property lawyers in the offices late and keeping their firms coffers full.

There has been a number of key deals in the City of London during the past few months, with all the Citys leading property practices involved. Most recently the announcement of the redevelopment of the former London Stock Exchange (LSE) at 125 Old Broad Street kept the top practices busy, with roles for Clifford Chance, Herbert Smith, Jones Day, Nabarro Nathanson and Slaughter and May.

The deal illustrates a developing trend in high-value property transactions, with a developer engaging a number of firms one to handle the corporate aspects, another to handle the traditional, or core, property work. In this case Hammerson engaged Clifford Chance to advise on its joint venture and management structure and tax issues. The property-related aspects of the development were divided between Nabarros, which handled the property title work, and Herbert Smith, which advised on the construction issues.

The trend is seeing some law firms, such as noted property heavyweights Berwin Leighton Paisner and Herbert Smith, fight to develop an all-round expertise and secure more of the mandates. Their challenge is to get the corporate skills to match their core real estate strengths.

Magic circle firms are increasingly taking the often lucrative corporate and tax parts of the mandates, but are showing disinterest in the pure property work. Some of these firms, such as Clifford Chance, have taken strategic decisions to not handle core property aspects.

The trend has been a worry for some of the traditional property firms. Nabarros, which has long had a strong relationshipwithLand Securities, has increasingly found itself working alongside Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer. On the redevelopment of another major London site, One New Change (the building Allen & Overy is moving out of), Freshfields was instructed on
a potential joint venture agreement, but it also handled the construction aspects and future retail and office lettings, which is work not traditionally handled by the magic circle. But when it comes to sweet-talking a client, firms will always bend over backwards.