Investing in a London future

Although there are only a handful of Swedish firms operating UK offices, those with a presence are doing brisk business

Business between Sweden and the UK has not developed to the extent that Swedish firms feel it imperative to have an office in London.

In fact, a number which took the initiative in the 1980s and opened up offices in this country have since closed up shop. These include Stockholm firms Cederquist and Carler.

The reasons for the departures vary. However, according to Vinge's London resident partner Hans Bagner, the size of Swedish firms meant that it was difficult to find someone to move to London.

He explains: 'If a firm only has 10 to 15 lawyers as a whole, it is not easy for it to find someone prepared to stay in London.'

Carler, for example, closed down in London following its resident partner's departure and it was unable to find a replacement.

Also, according to Christopher Hamilton, of Hamilton & Co, before Sweden's entry into the European Union, Swedish firms 'had the impression that England was a good place when we were outside the Common Market to establish themselves in the Community'. Now that Sweden is a member of the EU, an office in London is less of a necessity.

Despite this, a few firms retain busy offices in the capital, with Lagerlof & Leman and Vinge leading the way. Hamilton & Co also has an office in London, as do one or two smaller practices.

Bagner has headed the London office of Vinge, a member of the Scandinavian Law Alliance, for almost 20 years. The alliance, which shares offices in the capital, also includes Danish practice Kromann & Munter and Norwegian firm Thommessen Krefting Greve Lund. The group has four Swedish lawyers, while the other major player in the UK, Lagerlof, a member of the European Alliance of Law firms, has three resident lawyers.

According to Bagner, his group works mainly with UK firms and tends to do a lot of work for UK and US banks. The firms engage in a variety of mergers and acquisitions, general company and commercial work as well as arbitration.

Lagerlof started its London office in 1986 and, according to resident partner Bertil Olgard, is also mainly engaged in work referred by UK and US firms. Most of it involves mergers and acquisitions transactions.

'We very seldom work for Swedish clients in the UK. It is normally the other way round,' he says. However, the future of its London office is inextricably bound up with the future of the Alliance of European Lawyers, which, as was reported in The Lawyer, is currently in talks with Linklaters.

Apart from Vinge and Lagerlof, the only other top 10 Swedish firm (in terms of size) operating in London is Hamilton & Co.

Speaking from Stockholm, where he will remain until February, partner Christopher Hamilton says that the firm's London office deals mainly with matters which relate to Sweden such as companies setting up in the country, taxation and so on.

Its London office has two partners who spend a lot of time working in the UK.

Will more Swedish firms come to London in the future? It seems unlikely that there will be a major rush. After all, with just over 3,000 lawyers in Sweden, the number of large firms with sufficient resources to open foreign offices is limited.

In any event, although business is brisk in London for those currently in the capital, there is not enough to sustain other entrants to the marketplace.

Swedish firms making forays internationally have tended, in recent years, to choose other destinations hence Mannheimer Swartling's offices in Moscow. Brussels has also proved a popular location and a number of Swedish firms have offices there including Lindahl and Mannheimer Swartling.

But firms such as Vinge are preparing to invest for a future in London. Faced with the difficulty of hiring, Bagner has come up with a novel recruitment idea for the firm. Because its Swedish offices are so busy, the firm has been unable to rely on a regular supply of home-grown lawyers to fill its London office. Instead, Vinge has looked to the local London market to find Swedish lawyers, particularly those who are in the UK undertaking postgraduate law courses.

Hoping to develop these connections, it is organising a get-together for about 50 Swedish postgraduate students from universities such as the London and Cambridge in early March.

'We are looking at this group as a very interesting group for us,' said Bagner.