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Private equity had a tough time during the recession, but has it started to creep out of the doldrums?
“The private equity sector fell off a cliff as funding dried up, which had a knock-on effect for lawyers specialising in this area, with redundancies and work levels drying up,” remarks Keith Miskelly at Garfield Robbins. “However, recent stories in the financial press saying the number of private equity buyout deals is at its highest since the credit crunch should mean there will be a need for firms to restock their private equity teams.”
Justin Gyphion, a senior consultant at Taylor Root, says: “While previously we would have seen a raft of private equity-specific roles on our books, firms seem to be hedging their bets by looking to hire generalist corporate lawyers with an element of private equity experience.”
Although private equity has undoubtedly been slow in recent years, things are starting to pick up in the mid-market, notes Gerry Arbuckle of Laurence Simons.
“A number of law firms are keen to hire private equity partners in the expectation that at some point private equity houses will need to become more acquisitive and invest their capital or face lower than expected returns for investors,” he says.
“In the mid-market space partners report a steadier flow and revenues similar to or better than last year,” adds Conor Dilworth of Pro-Legal. “Transaction flow, and thus optimism, is strongest at firms that have good reputations in the private equity sector.”
There is some evidence that the sector is coming back to life, according to Ravi Ruparelia, a consultant at Laurence Simons.
“Unlike the smaller private equity houses, larger investment managers are in a position to consider additional headcount,” says Ruparelia. “We’ve seen a rise in demand in real estate private equity.”
As for interest in this sector, competition is hot, says Sarah Coughtrie of DMJ Legal.
“Competition for private equity in private practice work is fierce as US firms in London have been muscling out some traditional players. Certain magic/silver circle firms and US practices are dominating the big-ticket market and drawing in the top lawyers.”
The in-house market is also proving a tough nut to crack, says Dan Safar of DMJ Legal.
“There are few opportunities in this space as most funds have small legal teams with only a handful of corporate lawyers performing this type of transaction,” Safar says. “The typical level is 6 years’ PQE.
We’re seeing an increase in demand for those with capital markets or high-yield backgrounds due to the focus on distressed and high-yield debt from private equity houses.”
Although prospects at home are not so great, Dilworth adds that “the international market in-house is more fertile for UK-qualified private equity lawyers, particularly in Australia, Hong Kong, Beijing, the Middle East and South America”.