A&O looks to restructuring work to keep banking team ticking over

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  • A&O Banking

    I am a non-lawyer banking professional and part of a team with a legal spend on banking work in excess of GBP20,000,000 per annum. A&O's banking practice has one peerless quality which others lack and which they must safeguard above all else - quality. They have the largest and deepest roster of smart, well-trained high quality banking lawyers in London and probably the world (although their quality outside London is seriously dodgy - this is something they need to get objective feedback on).

    This is the legacy of legends such as Philip Wood and Jonathan Horsfall Turner. Against that, they have many demerits - (i) they are much too big and amorphous, (ii) they have lost their sense of identity, (iii) they are perceived as grey, humourless and faceless, (iv) there does not appear to be much/any quality control outside London, and (v) the combination of the disdainful attitude towards borrowers and sponsors of some (very few) members of the B3/leveraged finance team and the very similar mindset of some members of the ex-Norton Rose leveraged finance team means that a small number of people have poisoned the well for everyone with the result that they are perceived generally (and by sponsors/borrowers in particular) as being uncommercial, onco-oerative and very expensive.

    It is a real struggle to persuade our clients that we should be allowed to instruct A&O. Eventually, this just becomes too tiring and we go elsewhere (CC, Links being the most obvious altenative choices). They could/should take a leaf out of Linklaters' book - focus on building up the profile and identity of a small group of client/media-friendly partners who actually make the effort to grasp the hand that feeeds them (rather than biting it a la A&O).

    A&O have a fantastic legacy and a great reputation for banking work but now is the time for radical thinking and a complete re-invention of their model.

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  • A view from inhouse

    As an inhouse counsel on the lender side, I'd like to make a couple of observations:
    (a) there is room enough for all 3 of links, A&O and CC in the world of big ticket financings and more besides; one of the problems I face is that there are so few firms in a position to act on a consistent basis for us. Links has a small number of qualify partners, CC has many quality partners but is hit and miss on the junior end of things, and A&O, notwithstanding some of the above comments which i would agree with, is still our first choice for consistent quality of banking lawyers across the board. (b) sponsors requesting not to have A&O on our side is something I have seen (although seldom, and not confined to A&O). However the idea that this is because of a firm being "over-lawyerly and insufficiently commercial" is nonsense! It is because they are bloody tough negotiators and know their stuff. Of course a sponsor would prefer us to use a regional or west end firm given the choice (!) but that is because they want the best deal asap with little negotiation on our side! This is why A&O and other firms with an established (and tough) lender practice will always be on my speed dial.

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