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City firm in corporate strategy shift; aims at VC houses in bid for smaller clients
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer is to refocus its London corporate strategy to target small and medium-size companies. The move marks a change in direction for the London office, which was previously targeting FTSE 100 companies. Under the new plans, Freshfields hopes to win new clients at the initial public offering (IPO) stage and then to consolidate the relationship and become the company's long-term adviser. It hopes to do this in part by strengthening its relationships with venture capital houses. Co-head of Freshfields' securities practice Tim Jones told The Lawyer the change in tactic reflects the firm's need to have a number of growing companies on its client list. "It does not lessen the importance placed on the big companies and the desire to attract more blue chip companies, but in addition we want to have a supply of medium-sized clients. The corporate department is growing, so we need more clients to come in and they can't all be FTSE 100 companies," he said. Last year, Freshfields advised on six IPOs (see IPO survey next week) and in all cases it advised the banks. In the most high-profile of these it advised Dresdner Kleinwort Benson, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter and Société Générale when France Telecom floated Orange. Jones said that the firm's aim in the equity capital markets practice is to advise the banks and corporate clients in equal measure. He said: "If we want to act for the corporates then we need to be looking at companies before they come to listing." The firm's biggest corporate clients last year included Granada, Scottish Power and Compass. However, its participation in general corporate deals far exceed its participation in equity capital markets transactions, highlighting the department's dilemma. At the time of listing, companies have already been through the venture capital process and are often looking to change or expand their legal representation. Jones said that this is an ideal time to poach them. Venture capital houses work with a good flow of medium-size companies and as part of the strategy Freshfields will leverage off its relationship with them. "By keeping close to them we can get word of what's coming along," he said.