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Anglian Water Group (AWG) has axed Herbert Smith as its main adviser
Herbert Smith had been AWG's main adviser for corporate, finance and regulatory work since 1989, but has been replaced by Linklaters following a panel review in which it was not shortlisted.
However, the firm will continue to advise AWG on litigation, including the utility group's high-profile £130m case against Sir Fraser Morrison, who sold his construction company Morrison Homes to AWG in 2000.
The switch comes as AWG prepares its defences against a possible takeover bid from WestLB, offering Linklaters the prospect of some highly lucrative M&A work.
AWG head of legal Patrick Firth approached eight firms, including Herbert Smith, last November, of which three - but not Herbert Smith - were shortlisted. Lovells and Slaughter and May made the shortlist, but also lost out to Linklaters. Firth told The Lawyer: "I was impressed with all three firms, any one of whom would have made good corporate advisers."
Firth declined to comment on the reasons why AWG initiated the review. However, a source close to the process said AWG was "not entirely satisfied with the service from the existing lawyers". The source said it was a combination of problems with relationship management and price. The utilities giant had not reviewed its external advisers since the late 1980s.
Herbert Smith, Linklaters, Lovells and Slaughters declined to comment.