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16 September 2002
Last year was a quiet one in France - quiet, that is, if you discount the mammoth €57bn (£39.17bn) Sanofi-Aventis merger in the first half of 2004.
The effect of the scramble for work on the deal meant that several firms in France shot up the M&A league tables. Bredin Prat's role for Aventis as the company launched its hostile bid for Sanofi-Synthélabo meant the French independent overtook Clifford Chance and Linklaters to come top of the table. Whether it also secures the firm a first-time place in The Lawyer Euro 100 will be seen on 25 April.
Indeed, eight of the top 10 firms appearing in Mergermarket's French M&A tables by value for the full year had roles on the Sanofi deal. Darrois Villey Maillot Brochier, Linklaters and Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz all acted for Sanofi; Bredin Prat joined Sullivan & Cromwell for Aventis; and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Herbert Smith and Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom scooped roles for the various banks involved.
But the French independents are still going strong and reporting continued growth. Bredin Prat's turnover rose by 8 per cent to e45m (£30.9m) from 2003's €39m (£26.8m) on the back of its involvement in such deals as Sanofi. The firm has also been instructed by state-owned aerospace corporation Snecma on its acquisition by communications company Sagem.
Darrois Villey, another French firm to benefit from Sanofi, had its strongest ever year, according to managing partner Jean-Michel Darrois, with turnover above e30m (£20.6m) for the first time. The firm remains small, with 13 partners and an additional 20 fee-earners, but has a strong reputation, with big clients in both the corporate and litigation arenas.
Turnover at Jeantet & Associés rose 10 per cent between 2003 and 2004 to €31.7m (£21.8m), with a solid showing in the deals tables. Lateral hires were the order of the day at Jeantet too, as the firm added employment partner Anne-Elisabeth Combes from EY Law and public law specialist Marc Fornacciari from utilities company RWE.
Despite its losses, De Pardieu Brocas Maffei & Leygonie remains strong as one of the few large French independents left. In January 2005 it snagged Emmanuel Chauve from Jones Day in one of the few lateral hires to see a partner move from a US firm to a French one. In November, the firm hired public law expert Yves-René Guillou from Vatier & Associés.
None of the independent French firms has yet declared an intention to follow Gide Loyrette Nouel's international strategy. Although Gide is still headquartered in France and led by Frenchman Gérard Tavernier, it is very much an international firm, with offices in 17 jurisdictions. The firm recorded European revenues of €106.1m (£72.9m) in 2004, with another e11m (£7.6m) coming from outside Europe.
Outside high-level corporate work, France's legal market is still dominated by accountancy-tied law firms. Of the four, EY Law and Landwell retain links to their accountancy parents Ernst & Young and PricewaterhouseCoopers respectively; Fidal and Taj, meanwhile, have shed their connections to KPMG and Deloitte & Touche.
Fidal's mammoth 1,200-lawyer operation encompasses 100 offices across France and brought in €250m (£171.8m) in 2004, a rise of 6 per cent on 2003. But the firm is still running with a rock-bottom profit margin of 11 per cent and profit per equity partner of just €109,000 (£74,900).
EY Law, meanwhile, instituted a voluntary redundancy programme last spring to shed 85 lawyers and 15 support staff. This had no effect on 2004's revenues, which totalled e114m (£78.3m), but EY Law expects 2005's income to drop to around e100m (£68.7m). However, the firm hopes that profitability next year will be up from an already impressive e651,000 (£447,400) per equity partner.
Taj, the firm formerly known as Deloitte, saw a steady year, with turnover static at €63.9m (£43.9m). Taj is much smaller than its competitors with just 30 partners and 200 fee-earners, but its €2.1m (£1.4m) revenue per partner is double that of Fidal and 50 per cent more than EY Law's.
Among the international firms, the trend of the year was for continued lateral hiring. The presence of Skadden and Sullivan & Cromwell on the Sanofi deal is an indication of the continuing presence in France of US firms, and the last 12 months and the early part of this year have seen yet more movement from both French stalwarts and UK firms to US outfits.
In April, Morgan Lewis & Bockius hired 15 lawyers from De Pardieu, with the haul including name partner Jean Leygonie. The appointments followed Paul Hastings Janofsky & Walker's move into Paris through a merger with Moquet Borde & Associés.
Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson, in January 2005, was another US firm to take a multi-partner team from a French firm: it bagged Veil Jourde La Garanderie's head of M&A Patrick Jais and litigation partner Barbara Levy, along with an of counsel and five associates, significantly boosting the US firm's French capability.
The year's most high-profile single hire by a US firm, though, was undoubtedly the appointment of Clifford Chance star Dominique Bompoint by Sullivan & Cromwell. Bompoint, regarded as one of the Paris bar's most talented lawyers, had joined Clifford Chance just three years previously from Bredin Prat.
French independent firms' finances 2004
Firm European turnover European turnover Revenue per equity partner Revenue per equity partner
€m £m €m £m
Fidal 250.0 171.8 1.0 0.7
EY Law 114.0 78.3 1.6 1.1
Gide Loyrette Nouel 106.1 72.9 1.3 0.9
Taj 63.9 43.9 2.1 1.4
Bredin Prat 45.0 30.9 1.8 1.2
Jeantet & Associés 31.7 21.8 1.4 1.0
Darrois Villey Maillot Brochier 31.0 21.3 2.4 1.7 Source: The Lawyer Euro 100 Source: The Lawyer Euro 100 Source: The Lawyer Euro 100