Latham & Watkins: one firm across the continent?
15 May 2014 | By Joanne Harris
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Latham & Watkins has a concentrated global strategy - which extends to its European presence.
US firm Latham & Watkins has just 11 offices in continental Europe, spread across six jurisdictions. Unlike some of its rivals, it has kept its European presence fairly lean and focused on these key countries - and, says executive committee member Mike Bond in London, is entirely unable to separate out revenue derived from Europe from revenue derived elsewhere.
“We don’t do office budgets or office targets,” Bond explains. “We find that the thought of these are an impediment to people working together in the most constructive way for clients. We want our lawyers to work together on cross-border transactions.”
Certainly over the last year Latham has been pretty successful at winning a role on several major European transactions. It was acting for US advertising giant Omnicon on the recently-failed $35bn merger with French rival Publicis (29 July 2013). From London, Latham advised the banks on Altice’s €17bn acquisition of French telecoms company SFR (9 April 2014), and for banks on Liberty Global’s £5.7bn acquisition of Dutch cable operator Ziggo (30 January 2014), among other deals.
Latham backs up its presence in Europe with desks focused on particular regions, run from another office. Bond cites its Nordic desk as an example - led from London by Swedish-born and qualified partner Olof Clausson, the Scandinavia desk is able to pick up work on Nordic-related deals, working alongside domestic firms.
Bond explains the firm’s strategy internationally has been built out from a “deliberate decision” to create a top-tier, global law firm.
“It’s the same conclusion that some of the English firms have reached,” he acknowledges, citing the magic circle as an example. Rather than spreading its resources too thinly across the continent, Latham chose to go for “strength in depth in key markets”.
“We’re a long way down the road in terms of execution, but we’re looking for further opportunities to develop our practice in response to client needs,” Bond says.
During the past 12 months Latham has expanded its European presence, with 12 lateral hires on the continent. Those included three partners from Shearman & Sterling to launch a Düsseldorf office (8 May 2013), the firm’s fourth German base. Also in Germany Latham picked up Allen & Overy partner Otto Behrends (19 April 2013) and a fourth Shearman partner for Frankfurt.
In Madrid, the firm picked up Cuatrecasas Gonçalves Pereira partner Ignacio Balañá as a partner in the corporate department (9 January 2014) - although this hire followed the loss of Madrid corporate head Juan Manuel de Remedios to White & Case in March last year (19 March 2013).
Meanwhile Latham made two Brussels hires - Lars Kjølbye, from Covington & Burling, and Sven Völcker, formerly a partner at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr.
Bond is not ruling out further physical expansion within Europe, while adding: “Our focus is inevitably more in honing what we’ve got.”
In recent years, that focus has seen the firm capitalise on its pre-eminent offerings, notably in debt capital markets. “The crisis has been a good reminder of the benefits of being seen as a strong player in the markets we do operate in,” says Bond. ”The lack of credit available from the European lending banks has led to demand for high yield.”
This manifested itself particularly in France, Germany and Italy, he says, where there was previously not much of a high-yield market.
“These countries didn’t really have a huge appetite for that product until the financial crisis because of the ready availability of senior debt,” Bond explains. He says that while the firm cannot exactly give a change in the revenue derived from, for example, its Italian and Spanish offices during the crisis, there is a strong sense that this has helped Latham’s European offices get through in good health.
“There’s no doubt that the challenges of the financial crisis have meant that we’ve had to focus very carefully on how and where we grow to maintain our position,” he adds.
Bond believes that having a single partnership worldwide helps Latham’s lawyers in Europe feel more a part of the whole than firms operating a less-integrated structure. While the firm cannot boast the weight of some of its rivals on the continent, its focused strategy still makes it a serious contender for some of the biggest instructions out there.