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Monte Carlo was the location for The Lawyer’s annual European Awards and Conference. Here are the highlights
Host Mishal Hussain, Noerr’s Alexander Liegl and The Lawyer’s Joanne Harris
As ever, this year’s European Awards demonstrated the diversity and quality of the Continent’s legal profession. Now in their fourth year, the awards attracted more than 150 entries from firms across Europe - from those with a handful of lawyers but a stellar practice to those that dominate their jurisdictions.
The night’s big winner was Germany’s Noerr, which won German Firm of the Year and followed up by picking up European Law Firm of the Year too.
Noerr’s success at the awards was not only due to its strong financial performance and its role on significant deals such as Germany’s largest real estate transaction of 2011, but also its commitment to diversity. Noerr is evolving a staff development programme that affects areas such as training, staff engagement and retention and the firm’s values.
Gianni Origoni Grippo Cappelli & Partners was highly commended in the European Law Firm of the Year category.
The firm’s appointment of Grimaldi e Associati partner Roberto Cappelli late last year shook up the Italian market and helped consolidate Gianni Origoni’s place as one of Italy’s top corporate outfits.
However, the firm has also proved its innovative streak, focusing on its international strategy with the expansion of its Chinese and India desks, the 2011 launch of an Abu Dhabi office and, morerecently, the launch of a South Korea desk.
The awards were presented at a gala dinner in the Hotel Hermitage’s stunning Belle Epoque room to the accompaniment of iconic songs from the James Bond films, with the event hosted by BBC presenter Mishal Husain.
Schoenherr routinely wins instructions on Austria’s biggest deals, but its award as Austrian Firm of the Year also recognised the firm’s commitment to its lawyers through a “lawyering” programme designed to improve knowledge and expertise across the firm.
Although Liedekerke Wolters Waelbroeck Kirkpatrick is one of the smaller firms on the Benelux shortlist, judges felt the Belgian firm stood out for its professional and pragmatic approach. They also commended its work on last year’s bailout of Belgian bank Dexia.
Czech firm PRK has offices across Central Europe and saw across-the-board growth last year. The firm has been hiring in response to the work coming in, and is expanding its practice areas. In particular, it has been investing in the energy sector.
Law Firm of the Year: Eastern Europe and the Balkans
Winner: Wolf Theiss
Eastern Europe and the Balkans is becoming an increasingly important region for Austria’s Wolf Theiss. The firm opened in Banja Luka, the capital of Republika Srpska, in February, adding to its existing presence in Sarajevo. Wolf Theiss’s Eastern European offices are expanding rapidly and the firm is now a major player in the region.
The judges said French firm August & Debouzy has real momentum at the moment. The firm grew in headcount and turnover last year and, led by one of France’s few female managing partners, has a strategy that should see continued success.
Highly commended: Bredin Prat
Shortlisted: Franklin - Salans
Law Firm of the Year: Germany
Judges said Noerr had demonstrated a “very strong culture” in recent years and transformed itself into a market-leading player in Germany.
The first Portuguese winner of this category, PLMJ grew last year despite its jurisdiction’s stagnant economy. The firm has been focusing on its international strategy, developing relationships in Africa, Asia and Latin America to counteract the effect of the local market.
Gianni Origoni has developed a more international strategy than some of its local peers, with Chinese, Indian and a South Korean desk, and an Abu Dhabi office. The firm’s profile in Italy is at a high.
Shortlisted: AL - Assistenza Legale - LABLAW - Studio Legale - NCTM - Portolano Cavallo Studio Legale
Law Firm of the Year: Poland
Winner: Domański Zakrzewski Palinka
The winner of the new Polish category, Domański Zakrzewski Palinka, grew by 16 per cent last year and reorganised along multidisciplinary practice lines. Judges said the firm is easy to work with and has an innovative approach to client service.
Arthur Cox continues to pick up plenty of work on the back of Ireland’s restructuring and increasing foreign investment. The firm is also promoting access to the legal profession by joining UK initiative Prime, working with local schools.
Shortlisted: A&L Goodbody - Matheson Ormsby Prentice - William Fry
Law Firm of the Year: Romania
Winner: Popovici Nitu & Asociatii
Romania’s Popovici Nitu & Asociatii grew revenue by an impressive 40 per cent in 2011. Deals tables put the firm ahead of its rivals, and it has done a considerable amount of lateral hiring in the past year.
Schellenberg Wittmer has embraced staff retention with training programmes and flexible working initiatives while focusing on better aligning its practice groups, helping it win Swiss Firm of the Year.
For the second year running, Lawin was the standout winner in this category. Its strategy of integrating three Baltic firms ever more closely is working and the judging panel said the firm was a market leader, going from strength to strength.
Since its foundation a decade ago Bener Law Office has grown its business considerably and is now becoming a sizeable player in the Turkish market, with around 50 lawyers. The firm boasts a stellar foreign client list of corporations.
Standing out for its technology focus, Italian boutique Portolano Cavallo has a loyal group of lawyers and staff. Despite price freezes in its market it has consistently high revenue growth. Judges said that in a tough category it was a “class act”.
AL - Assistenza Legale - Glade Michel Wirtz - LABLAW - Studio Legale - Trevisan & Cuonzo - Vandenbulke
International Law Firm of the Year
Winner: Watson Farley & Williams, Germany
Watson Farley & Williams has developed a tailored international strategy and this is paying dividends in Germany, where the firm’s Hamburg and Munich offices, focused on shipping and energy, are doing particularly well.
Baker & McKenzie, Russia and the CIS - Dechert, Russia and the CIS - Goltsblat BLP, Russia - Heisse Kursawe Eversheds, Germany - Weil Gotshal & Manges, Central and Eastern Europe
European Managing Partner of the Year (sponsored by KermaPartners)
Winner: Florentin Ţuca, Ţuca Zbârcea & Asociaţii
Florentin Tuca has led Romania’s Tuca Zbârcea & Asociatii since 2005, overseeing the firm’s expansion from 23 lawyers to 110, with a tenfold increase in clients. Judges commended his energy and dynamism in a difficult market.
Highly commended: Oleksiy Didkovskiy, Asters
Shortlisted: Emmanuelle Barbara, August & Debouzy - Christian H Pothe, Buse Heberer Fromm - Pauliina Tenhunen, Castrén & Snellman -
Luca Failla and Francesco Rotondi, LABLAW - Studio Legale
European Law Firm of the Year (sponsored by Thomson Reuters)
The awards were accomapnied by the European Conference, focusing on the future of the legal market, the scene set by a keynote speech by Salans’ global managing partner Dariusz Oleszczuk. He spoke about the way larger firms are facing a challenge to sustain profitability and said there was a “growing divide between very successful niche firms and very large firms”, with an increasingly squeezed mid-tier.
“The firms that are most flexible will survive,” he said, adding that a firm’s “ability to realise its strengths and weaknesses, and how this shapes its strategy” are key.
Olezszcuk was followed onto the podium by a panel discussion featuring five jurisdictions to watch: Cyprus, Luxembourg, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine.
Pamboridis managing partner George Pamboridis made the case for his home country Cyprus, pointing to the recent discovery of natural gas as proof of the country’s potential.
Developments in energy were touched on again by Bezen & Partners partner Yesim Bezen, who argued that Turkey is a go-to destination for international business. Bezen said Turkey is in the midst of legislative change - something also brought up by Ilyashev & Partners partner Maksym Kopeychykov from Ukraine. He outlined a list of regulatory changes and predicted a wave of privatisation for his country.
Vandenbulke managing partner Denis Van Den Bulke then spoke about Luxembourg’s prominence as a funds centre and highlighted its status as an attractive jurisdiction for Asian investment.
Margarita Gaskarova, chief editor of Legal Insight magazine, said Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organisation was a “major stepping stone” and highlighted the amount of activity in the country’s legal market. Gaskarova said there were 53 lateral hires made in Moscow in the first nine months of 2012 and that nearly 30 per cent of managing partners at international firms in Moscow are Russian.
The session concluded with each panellist giving their tip as to which other jurisdiction would be the one to watch. Turkey came out top, the other panellists saying that while their jurisdiction did not work much with Turkey at present, they were expecting to do so more.
Thursday’s final session saw Neuberger Berman Europe’s Emea general counsel Meekal Hashmi chair a panel on compliance. Hashmi was a tough chair, giving each panellist just two minutes to sum up their greatest challenges.
Vodafone group compliance director Jacqueline Barrett compared accountants and lawyers in the compliance field. “Lawyers tend to think of themselves as risk managers, but accountants are often better at this,” she said.
Alex Laumans, executive director of global legal and compliance control at UBS, pointed out that you do not have to be a lawyer to know what compliance is all about.
The view of Europe from the UK was given on Friday by Travers Smith senior partner Chris Carroll and his Macfarlanes counterpart Charles Martin. They spoke about the desire for UK firms to expand, both within the UK and abroad.
“The eurozone crisis is causing issues, but also throwing up opportunities,” Martin noted.
“There’s a lot of wait-and-seeing, which is causing a drag on M&A in the UK,” Carroll added.
However, Martin said independent firms have a strong future. “The independent law firm model resonates more now in most parts of the world, particularly among general counsel,” he said. Both said Asia would be an increasingly important part of the legal market.
“The challenge with Asia is how you can make money out of it, and Asian firms are starting to flex their muscles,” said Carroll.
The future of independent firms was also touched on by afternoon speaker Steven de Keyser of consultancy firm Bignon de Keyser, who told delegates how to successfully integrate a merger.
“You may not have to merge, but there’s a 60 per cent chance you should consider it,” he said.
De Keyser said firms should not blindly follow their competitors into a jurisdiction, nor should they merge purely for size reasons. He added that regarding a merger as a “magic box” to solve problems is unlikely to succeed.
Thomson Reuters’ head of corporate Huw Cahill and interim head of custom web solutions Richard Eccles discussed the use of technology in the law, with Cahill speaking about the importance of e-billing in alternative fee arrangements.
“In terms of e-billing there’s no real difference between the UK and Europe and it’s been taken up quite widely across Europe, but we’re still playing catch-up with the US,” Cahill told the audience.
Eccles said outsourcing was another way of streamlining businesses. “For firms working in various parts of the world, outsourcing could make life easier,” he said.
The relationship between law firms and clients was a hot topic on Friday. Hitachi Data Systems Emea general counsel Don Hughes talked about the transition for in-housers from being legal counsel to business counsel.
“It’s crucial for an in-house lawyer to be seen as much more than just a lawyer - in-housers need to demonstrate their value, and that their department is a value-added service,” he stressed.
In the final session of the conference, Kellogg Europe chief legal counsel Orla Muldoon, TSYS International chief legal counsel Solomon Osagie and Nokia litigation counsel Taliah Walklett discussed how they choose and evaluate external advisers.
All the panellists agreed that choosing external counsel was much more about personal and individual relationships than brand, and that demonstrating business knowledge was key.
“I expect them to have a knowledge of the company that matches what’s available in the public arena,” said Muldoon.
“Unless external firms recognise that it’s now a client-led market, most law firms won’t survive,” Osagie warned.
The trio concluded the conference by giving the delegates an insight into their gripes with external advisers. Muldoon said she disliked it when firms failed to stick to deadlines, Osagie said he did not want qualifications and provisos in advice that rendered it useless, and Walklett said communication was the biggest issue.