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The ever-increasing globalisation of the corporate and financial markets has provided new challenges for offshore law firms as they compete to give clients the services they want and expect. The result has been a change in the offshore landscape.
There are two schools of thought at offshore firms about the best way to react to this globalisation. Those that seek to grow by merger and those that prefer a more organic approach. The past few months have brought examples of both. After months of speculation in the market, Appleby Spurling Hunter and Bailhache Labesse confirmed what most expected by announcing that they were to merge. As first reported on www.thelawyer.com (1 June), the merger will come into effect on 1 September with the new firm trading as Appleby Hunter Bailhache.
Applebys is the larger of the two firms and has offices in Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands (BVI), Hong Kong and London, and around 435 staff, of which 100 are lawyers.
Bailhache Labesse has a single Jersey office (although it has been widely speculated that it is on the brink of launching in Guernsey) with around 130 employees.
At the time of announcing the merger, Appleby Spurling Hunter's managing partner Peter Bubenzer said: "Our strategic vision is to be the leading provider of legal, fiduciary and administrative services in the offshore world. By merging with Bailhache Labesse, we are strengthening and extending our reach into another key jurisdiction and positioning ourselves as the first choice for clients in the offshore world."
All very fine words and the sort of platitudes you expect on this kind of occasion. However, rivals have not been so complimentary. One lawyer at another firm is critical.
"We pioneered the multi-jurisdictional trend and retained consciousness of the most critical factor for an offshore law firm - the quality of people that you have - and therefore advice you can give - in each of your jurisdictions," claims the lawyer. "Simply buying small shops to gain a presence doesn't mean you have the best people in your jurisdictions."
Others were more charitable. "It was kind of inevitable that the smaller offshore firms would merge, as you have to be multi-jurisdictional or clients will go elsewhere," one managing partner tells The Lawyer.
Whatever the competition might say, the merger will make Appleby Hunter Bailhache one of the few outfits with a base in the two busiest offshore regions - the Channel Islands and the Caribbean - and therefore better placed than many.
Ogier is in both areas, thanks to merger, as is Mourant du Feu & Jeune, which has preferred a 'grow your own' approach.