Firms soldier on amid eurozone chaos

Catrin Griffiths, editor, The Lawyer

banking & finance

For finance practices, the theme of 2010-11 was uncertainty, with instability mounting in the eurozone. However, the leveraged buyout market – where private equity houses take on high levels of debt from banks (also known as senior lenders) to buy up companies – held up well, despite the fact that the boom time for the market is unlikely to be repeated in the near future.

International projects work in emerging economies also bulked up the workflow for many major law firms, while straight restructuring work was patchy, and dominated by arguments between classes of creditors chasing diminishing returns.

The top UK-headquartered finance practices still have healthy finance businesses, but the fact remains that a number of US firms – notably Kirkland & Ellis and more recently Ropes & Gray – have made considerable inroads into banking and restructuring, with Bingham McCutchen and most recently Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan effectively colonising the contentious end of restructuring. They were joined this year by Weil Gotshal & Manges, which is best known for acting for corporates and private equity houses rather than the banks that provide the debt finance for those transactions. Weil’s hire of Linklaters banking partner Stephen Lucas signalled a belated desire to acquire lender clients as well to add to the firm’s traditional private equity base.

Despite a bloody restructuring of its finance group back in 2009, Allen & Overy’s (A&O) turnover edged up from £486m to £537m, representing nearly half of its global turnover.

Its cross-border capability was augmented by hires in new offices in Australia, Morocco and Indonesia.

Clifford Chance, which increased revenue from £486m to £524.2m, won Finance Team of the Year at The Lawyer Awards for its rocket science work on the formation of the e440bn (£378bn) European Financial Stability Fund and its loans relating to Ireland and Portugal. Like A&O, it made a strong showing in leveraged deals, particularly in the first six months of the financial year 2010-11, as private equity houses embarked on a trading merry-go-round.

Linklaters consolidated its position as a top-tier firm in this field with the hire of restructuring star Chris Howard from Freshfields, who rejoined his old firm in November 2010 after a six-year absence.

Among the best performers of the year were Norton Rose, whose combination with Australia’s Deacons helped propel it up the finance table from £119.7m to £151m.