Brief Encounter: Ozannes

Who would have thought that a Channel Island firm would have cropped up quite so often in The Lawyer IPO 2000 Survey? But Guernsey firm Ozannes did, making an appearance in the top 10 (albeit at number nine) of the league table charting which firms acted on the largest number of UK IPOs between January 1999 and June 2000. The firm also popped up as one of the top five advisers to issuers, again by volume.

This was a survey dominated by the magic circle, so what exactly was a 10-partner firm doing there amid the City’s great and good? Easy – trusts. Investment funds and trusts will always be a feature of just about any exchange. The firm has a thriving investment fund practice, advising on listings in a range of offshore locations such as Bermuda, and on the fledgling Channel Islands Stock Exchange (CISX), formed in 1998. It also advises on some of Europe’s biggest exchanges, including London and Amsterdam. Ozannes also advises pre-float, such as trust establishment and administration.

Coupled with this, the firm has in-house fiduciary company the Legis Group, which gets involved in private client work as well as the broader investment trust department. It was created in 1979, and has additional offices in (surprise surprise) the British Virgin Islands and the eastern Caribbean. Services offered by Legis include company incorporation and administration, trust creation, employee benefit plans, property-holding companies for international investors, special purpose companies and the arrangement of general insurance cover.

But trust funds are not the beginning and end of this firm. Its listing abilities are boosted by subsidiary Ozannes Securities Limited, which allows it to act as a sponsor for listings on CISX. It also has a separate dedicated securitisation and capital markets department and the firm is well known for its banking work. It almost goes without saying that the firm is big in the world of tax.

So what else does this small firm with many pie-clad fingers do? It has a strong litigation practice dealing with both civil and commercial disputes, although again, one of the specialisms of the practice is trust litigation, as well as the non-corporate areas of family law and conveyancing. It also advises on offshore insurance.

Lawyers at the firm come from everywhere – home-grown, Hong Kong and the British Virgin Islands to name but a few. Senior partner and private client specialist Nikolas Van Leuven has been with the firm since 1972. Other heavy-hitting partners include Peter Harwood, who previously has been chairman of TSB Bank (Channel Islands) and director of CISX. Investment and trust law specialist William Simpson qualified in the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands and Guernsey and, like Harwood, is highly regarded in his field.

But really, Ozannes’ high rankings in The Lawyer IPO Survey should not surprise anyone. Back in 1997, well before the equity capital markets boom period of the past 18 months, the practice acted alongside that other survey winner, Linklaters & Alliance. The magic circle firm acted as UK and US counsel for BC Partners in one of the largest ever private equity raisings spread across New York, Canada, Europe, the Far East and Australia. And Ozannes was hanging in there advising on Guernsey law. It seems that when it comes to offshore expertise and trust management, size really does not matter.