International eye: France

Size matters as Fidal enjoys profitable 2005

Former KLegal firm Fidal was the first Gallic firm to reveal its financial results for 2005, announcing a turnover rise of 8 per cent. The giant firm, which has more than 1,400 fee-earners, now brings in E265m (£181.7m), and but tax law remains integral to its success.

Fidal is present in 100 French cities, making it by far the largest French firm both by turnover and geographical spread. Its growth comes despite the recent changes to French legislation that have hit firms such as Ernst & Young Société d’Avocats and Landwell & Associés hard.

But corporate powerhouses are slowly catching up with Fidal, led by Gide Loyrette Nouel. Gide had a fabulous year, led mainly by its presence outside France. Its North African offices in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia saw turnover increase by 50 per cent, while the Chinese and Vietnamese offices celebrated 42 per cent growth.

At home the rises were less dramatic. Turnover in France went up by 4 per cent, despite a spate of instructions from the French government on its privatisation programme. The results demonstrate that, while the work, led principally by Paris-based corporate partner Jean-Emmanuel Skovron, is high profile, it does not make the same money as can be gleaned from advising banks.

In total, Gide now makes E187.5m (£128.6m) around the world, of which E130m (£89.2) is in France. Do not expect the firm to stop there. Buoyed by the success of the international strategy that was once scoffed at, France’s first global law firm looks set to keep on growing.

Smaller French firms also had good years, among them De Pardieu Brocas Maffei. The firm was hit in 2004 by the loss of a 15-lawyer team to Morgan Lewis (more of that story later), but has recovered well and this spring celebrated a 16 per cent revenue rise. De Pardieu is one of the stalwarts of the Paris bar, led by the charismatic Charles-Henri de Pardieu, and has worked hard to achieve its E25m (£17.1m) turnover.

Fellow independent JeantetAssociés saw a fourth successive year of turnover increase by bringing in E32.5m (£22.3m), but it was unable to sustain the impressive 10 per cent growth it managed in each of 2002, 2003 and 2004. However, with 24 partners Jeantet is comfortably managing a revenue per partner of more than E1m (£690,000) and ought to continue growing.

Ginestié Magellan Paley-Vincent demonstrated that the merger between Ginestié Paley-Vincent & Associés and Magellan in February 2005 was worth doing, with a turnover of E14m (£9.6m). Ginestié Paley-Vincent was DLA‘s French ally prior to the Piper Rudnick Gray Cary merger, but chose to remain independent rather than be subsumed into the giant global firm. The strategy has paid off, despite the loss of two employment partners who have set up alone.

Linklaters leads magic circle’s Paris expansion

Expansion was the word of the month at the UK’s magic circle firms in Paris. Linklaters filled a gap in its international practice when it hired two partners from French firm Sonier Poulain & Associés. Until the appointments of Aymar de Mauléon de Bruyères and Cécile Dupoux, banking partner Bertrand Andriani was the only French partner with significant restructuring expertise, despite Linklaters’ large global restructuring practice.

Restructuring and insolvency work have been busy areas for Anglo-Saxon firms in France recently, and in hiring De Mauléon de Bruyères and Dupoux, Linklaters is playing a game of catch-up with competitors such as Weil Gotshal & Manges.

Weil bagged a team of restructuring specialists from Willkie Farr & Gallagher in November, shortly after Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson hired Weil partner David Chijner.

Linklaters is hoping that its new restructuring specialists will help it strengthen its relationships with banks and investment clients.

Meanwhile, Clifford Chance added to its December hire of White & Case‘s Thierry Arachtingi by bringing in four acquisition finance assistants to join him: two from White & Case, one from Allen & Overy and one from Gide. The hires send a signal to the market that Arachtingi’s hire is working, but Clifford Chance needs some more big deals under its belt to prove it.

US firms continue to enhance French footing

Not content with letting the Brits do all the hiring, US firms in France are also busy seeking out new talent. Debevoise & Plimpton is responding to the current surge in international arbitration by flying in Shearman & Sterling New York litigator and arbitrator Frederick Davis to boost its contentious practice. It is an unusual hire, but Paris is fighting London for the title of arbitration capital and the extra capacity should serve Debevoise well.

Contentious work was the order of the day at Morgan Lewis too. French managing partner Jean Leygonie took a chance when Rambaud Martel announced it was merging with Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe, succeeding in snaring white-collar crime partner Thierry Dalmasso to join Morgan Lewis instead of Orrick.

However, despite the opportunistic nature of the hire, Leygonie believes that white-collar crime has synergies with Morgan Lewis’s corporate and finance strengths, while also helping the firm to handle more work in-house instead of outsourcing to independent boutiques.

Around about the same time that Morgan Lewis got going, in spring 2004 another US firm was moving into Paris. Paul Hastings Janofsky & Walker set up when it merged with Moquet Borde & Associés, and now, two years on, it is also hiring. But tax, rather than crime, was the order of the day when Willkie Farr & Gallagher partner Allard de Waal joined the firm in April.

De Waal is Paul Hastings’ fifteenth French partner, joining the firm as it looks forward to its third year in Paris. Like Morgan Lewis, Paul Hastings is now established solidly in France, and both firms are now beginning to be big enough to get themselves noticed.

Bird & Bird stakes its claim for Lyon share

No Anglo-Saxon firm has yet tried to make a mark for itself in France outside Paris. Other French cities have been left to French firms such as CMS Bureau Francis Lefebvre and Fidal. But Bird & Bird broke the mould in March when it opened up in Lyon.

Lyon is France’s second-largest city and a number of large industrial and technological companies have bases there. Bird & Bird is launching its office on the back of the 1 March arrival of new IP partner Yves Bizollon and four associates. The team joins from independent Lamy & Associés, which is also present in Lyon, and the new office is designed to help Bizollon maintain links with existing clients.

Naturally the Lyon office will focus on IP work, Bird & Bird’s strong point across the globe, but nevertheless it is a risky and courageous move. France’s business law market remains highly centralised in Paris, and it is not certain whether Bird & Bird can make a name for itself outside the capital.

It does, however, seem unlikely that the firm will be followed by other UK and US firms. IP aside, Lyon remains principally a city for tax advice – and the former accountancy firms still have the monopoly in that market.