Crunch opportunities knock
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2 October 2013
Rescue of Thelen lawyers adds international nous
For a firm lacking a wide network of overseas offices, a surprising number of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman’s clients are international.
As the firm’s executive vice-chairman Steve Huttler says: “Around one-third of our work involves a cross-border element.”
That is extraordinary for a firm with overseas offices only in London, Tokyo and Shanghai.
And thanks to its acquisition of 22 lawyers from struggling firm Thelen, that proportion just got significantly bigger. The group includes lawyers in Washington DC, San Francisco and Shanghai, with the latter group headed by a lawyer well-known to Pillsbury – Tom Shoesmith.
Shoesmith, who is the new managing partner of Pillsbury’s Shanghai office, is a Californian lawyer with a longstanding working relationship with his new firm’s Silicon Valley office. Many times Shoesmith has been on the other side of the table working on the same deals – but not always for the same firm.
“Shoesmith is something of a wandering gypsy,” says one US recruitment consultant. “This will be his fifth firm in around 10 years.”
Those firms are Baker & McKenzie, then Cooley Godward, Paul Hastings, Thelen and now Pillsbury.
Still, were it not for all the noise over the past few weeks about Heller Ehrman’s collapse, there would be a lot more focus on Thelen’s woes. So who can blame Shoesmith for wanting to move on?
Pillsbury, on the other hand, is keen to spin its latest hires as a significant boost to its Chinese emerging company and foreign direct investment practices.
Shoesmith and co will no doubt do just fine and be admirable additions to the Pillsbury brand, but the firm does have a bit of a history of bolt-ons and mergers that have been less than silky to bed down.
Think DC-based Cushman Darby & Cushman in 1996, Winthrop Stimson Putnam & Roberts in New York in 2001 and, of course, Shaw Pittman in 2005.
According to sources, a significant portion of Pillsbury’s new acquisition focuses on so-called ‘pink sheets’ companies – those that are traded publicly but are not listed and are, effectively, of lower value in terms of work and fees billed.
Pillsbury’s own press release states: “Of the 25 public company clients the [Thelen] team represents, seven are listed on Nasdaq and one is listed on the NYSE [New York Stock Exchange].” It does not say much about the other 17.
Law firms jostle as AIG sells assets to pay off debts
Last week the vultures were circling one of the largest of the US’s growing list of crippled financial giants, Sullivan & Cromwell client AIG.
As The Lawyer went to press, the insurance giant that was bailed out by the US government to the tune of $85bn (£48.17bn) was preparing to outline a list of more than 15 assets it was putting up for sale to meet its debts.
Earlier last week, on the UK side of the Atlantic, the beleaguered insurer sold its 50 per cent stake in London City Airport to its joint venture buddy Global Infrastructure Partners, a client of Slaughter and May. The US firesale is expected to include billions of dollars worth of subsidiaries and properties and – understandably – the world’s top law firms are already watching closely.
Firms with strength in the insurance industry that can also throw in solid M&A expertise are in pole position to advise on these acquisitions. The Lawyer understands that US firms such as Dewey & LeBoeuf are among them, while their UK rivals jockey for position include Lovells.
As if it needed to be said, the ubiquitous Rodgin Cohen over at Sullivan & Cromwell is representing AIG on individual assets. A team from Debevoise & Plimpton featuring insurance industry group co-chair Nick Potter is also understood to be advising the insurer on additional pieces on its ‘for sale’ list.
Just to make the party even more crowded, a team from Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy is advising AIG on the sale of its aircraft leasing business International Lease Finance Corporation.
Heady days. As one of the lawyers involved puts it: “AIG on its own takes a lot of the oxygen out of the room.”
Maybe after this people will get a chance to draw breath.