French Resistance

French firms focusing on French law are having to battle hard just to retain their market share as accountancy-tied and global firms firms post record figures. Catrin Griffiths reports

It was not just the Uk firms that enjoyed a bumper year. As firms in The Lawyer 100 were posting record figures, thier counterparts accross the channel also saw fee income rise to record levels/ There are also other structural similarities. Like the UK, France has a big five that dominates the turnover table. But this is a very different sort of dominance. The French big five – Fidal (KPMG), Landwell, HSD Ernst & Young, Andersen Legal and Deloite & Touche J&F – comprises the accountancy-tied firms with a mass amarket offering. The accountancy-tied firms are not handling premium commercial work; their fees per fee earner figures are half those of the large international players in France, such as Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer. The international firms are the ones making the running. It is a familiar refrain: the smaller French firms – increasingly targeted by headhunters – are getting squeezed by the accountancy-tied firms on one side and the global practices on the other. The big five and the global firms between them now represent 57 per cent of the entire top 100 by turnover. There are now only six 'Franco-French' firms in the top 20: Gide Loyrette Nouel, CMS Bureau Francis Lefebvre (BFL), Stibbe, Jacques Barthélémy & Associés, Bredin Prat & Associés and Jeantet & Associés. And come next year's results, that list of Franco-French firms will no longer include Stibbe since its vote to join US firm Latham & Watkins (The Lawyer, 10 September).
What is more, two established Franco-French firms were unable to maintain last year's turnover, according to the figures. Jeantet still holds its position in the top 20, but fell from FFr201m (£19.2m) to FFr177.7m (£16.9m), although it managed to keep its fees per fee-earner level at FFr2.7m (£257,000).
Perhaps more worrying was the performance of Lovells' new acquisition, Siméon & Associés. Its turnover figure dropped from FFr75.6m (£7.2m) to FFr66.4m (£6.3m), while fees per fee-earner fell from FFr1.5m (£143,000) to FFr1.3m (£124,000). It looks as if Lovells' Paris office will dominate the merger in France; it turned over FFr90m (£8.6m), up from FFr70m (£6.7m), despite the firm's fees per fee-earner level dropping.
That said, the hard core of Franco-French firms have maintained market share, and many of them can still attract great recruits. One only has to think of Olivier Diaz, who quit Linklaters & Alliance for Darrois Villey Maillot Brochier last year, to see the pulling power of the boutiques.
Several Franco-French firms stand out. M&A powerhouse Bredin Prat – which shuns hourly rates – turned in a spectacular performance, with an astonishing fees per fee-earner figure of FFr4.7m (£448,000). One should note that other corporate boutiques such as Darrois Villey and Rambaud Martel, which would be expected to make a strong showing, declined to give figures.
Gide, meanwhile, has made a triumphant comeback after a turbulent period following the rupture of its links with Allen & Overy (A&O) and the subsequent loss of a whole string of partners to rival firms. Gide senior partner Gérard Tavernier says: “We've been working very hard and taking steps to reorganise the firm. We used to have an image of being made up of several chapels, but now there's a better organisation of departments, there's been a change of management and a larger sharing of knowledge and clients.”
Gide posted an 18.4 per cent rise in turnover, from FFr466.8m (£44.5m) to FFr552.8m (£52.7m). The rise was not achieved by headcount alone; fees per fee-earner leapt from FFr2m (£191,000) to FFr2.5m (£238,000), and much of that was due to the firm's traditional constituency of major M&A work (premium work included acting for Seagram on the Vivendi deal). And Gide's investment in its foreign offices is beginning to pay off – they now account for FFr89m (£8.5m), or 16 per cent, of the total turnover.

TOP 10 FEES PER fee-earner
Rank Law firm FFrm (£m)
1 Bredin Prat & Associés 4.7 (448)
2 Shearman & Sterling 3.6 (342)
3 Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer 2.9 (276)
4 Willkie Farr & Gallagher 2.8 (267)
5= Jeantet & Associés 2.7 (257)
5= Watson Farley & Williams 2.7 (257)
5= White & Case 2.7 (25)
8 Linklaters & Alliance 2.6 (248)
9 Gide Loyrette Nouel 2.5 (238)
10 Stibbe 2.4 (229)
 
Source: Juristes Associés

The only other French firm with any serious international presence is BFL. It also had a strong year; turnover was up by 23 per cent from FFr520m (£49.6m) to FFr640m (£61m), with overseas offices accounting for FFr89m (£8.5m). Productivity was good; fees per fee-earner reached FFr2.1m (£200,000). Usually tagged as 'just' a tax practice, BFL is now making strenuous efforts to boost its corporate side. “Ninety per cent of people would say we're a tax firm,” says managing partner Pierre Thill, “but in fact it represents only half of our activity.” The major test for BFL will be whether it can leverage off its existing client relationships and cross-sell effectively into the corporate department; its entry into the CMS network is designed to underpin that strategy.
But 2000 will be remembered as the year when the international firms consolidated their position in France. The global firms consistently reported the largest rises in turnover. What is more, with the exception of the likes of Bredin Prat, virtually no French firms were able to match the fees per fee-earner figures recorded by the international firms.
Shearman & Sterling reported extraordinary results: turnover was up from FFr182m (£17.4m) to FFr268m (£25.6m), a rise of 47 per cent: and its figure for fees per fee-earner was the second highest in the country after Bredin Prat, at FFr3.6m (£342,000).
“The Paris office for the last five years has been the most profitable in the firm, worldwide,” says the office's managing partner Emmanuel Gaillard. “And we've also benefited from the growth of the London and German offices.” Shearmans has grown market share partly through selective raids on smaller French firms. After hiring a trio from Siméon a while back, last week it recruited Martin Lebeuf from De Pardieu Brocas Maffei & Leygonie, signalling a renewed attack on an acquisition finance market, which is currently dominated by Gide, White & Case and Ashurst Morris Crisp.
White & Case's acquisition finance practice, spearheaded by Gilles Peigney, was one of the major engines of the firm's growth last year. It saw turnover rise by 25 per cent, from FFr140m (£13.3m) to FFr175m (£16.7m), with fees per fee-earner up from FFr2.1m (£200,000) to FFr2.7m (£257,000). (It is a nice irony that in the table it has nearly caught up with Jeantet, with which it nearly merged a year ago.)
Deadpan, managing partner John Riggs prefers to underplay the firm's performance. “If you just pound away day after day, week after week, you do very well,” he says. “Maybe you're not the sexiest lawyer in town, but you're very comfortable.”
The UK firms have had a good time of it. Ashursts, which boasts a serious rainmaker in Thomas Forschbach, reported figures of FFr108m (£10.3m), although its fees per fee-earner figure of FFr1.7m (£162,000) falls short of those posted by the magic circle firms. Watson Farley & Williams turned over FFr81m (£7.7m) and had a stunning fees per fee-earner figure of FFr2.7m (£257,000).
Herbert Smith is another one to watch; not only did it bag competition partner Claude Lazarus and banking partner Georges Dirani, both of whom have had a significant effect, but it almost doubled its turnover from FFr50m (£4.7m) to FFr86m (£8.2m), with fees per fee-earner rising from FFr1.2m (£114,000) to FFr1.6m (£153,000). “We've gone from 19 lawyers to 85 in three years,” says head of corporate Mike Kingston. “Like everyone else, we've benefited from a combination of increased M&A activity and equity capital markets in the last 18 months.”
But the two biggest UK stars in Paris are Clifford Chance and A&O. With an aggressive lateral hiring strategy that has snared Dominique Bompoint from Bredin Prat and Marcus Billam and Frederic Peltier from Darrois Villey, Clifford Chance's Paris office has put on a spurt. “It's starting to pay off,” says Paris managing partner Yves Wehrli. “We do receive some clients from the international network, but many of them are now local.” The firm's turnover leapt from FFr340m (£32.4m) to FFr420m (£40m), becoming in the process one of the most profitable offices in the Clifford Chance empire. A&O, too, is one of the biggest success stories in Paris. From a standing start two years ago, it now has 17 partners, turns over FFr173.5m (£16.5m) and is already in the top 20.
Of course, all these figures are tiny compared with the global firms' overall turnover. Indeed, the French top 100 as a whole account for FFr11.53bn (£1.1bn). That is a fraction of the size of the UK equivalent, which stands at £7.65bn, according to The Lawyer 100. Paris, it seems, is a market in miniature.

Top 50 French law firms (by turnover)
Rank Law firm Turnover
FFrm (£m)
Fees per fee-earner 2000
FFrm (£K)
Fees per fee-earner 1999
FFrm (£K)
1 Fidal 1,374 (131) 1.1 (105) 1.1 (105)
2 Landwell & Associés 768 (73.2) 1.3 (124) 1.1 (105)
3 HSD Ernst & Young 626 (59.7) 1.2 (114) 1.1 (105)
4 Andersen Legal 608.3 (58) 1.2 (114) 1.1 (105)
5 Gide Loyrette Nouel France: 552.8 (52.7) 2.5 (238) 2 (191)
Globally: 682.4 (65) 2 (191) 1.7 (162)
6 CMS Bureau Francis Lefebvre France: 551 (52.5) 2.1 (200) 2 (191)
Globally: 640 (61) 2 (191) 1.6 (153)
7 Clifford Chance 420 (40) 2.3 (219) 2.1 (200)
8 Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer 396 (37.8) 2.9 (276) 2.5 (238)
9 Linklaters & Alliance 300 (28.6) 2.6 (248)
10 Deloitte & Touche J&F 270 (25.7) 1.4 (133) 1.3 (124)
11 Shearman & Sterling 268 (25.6) 3.6 (342) 2.4 (229)
12 Salans Hertzfeld & Heilbronn France: 240 (22.9) 1.9 (181) 1.7 (162)
Globally: 771 (73.5) 2.2 (210) 1.8 (171)
13 Stibbe 218 (20.8) 2.4 (229) 2 (191)
14 Jacques Barthélémy & Associés 190 (18.1) 1.2 (114) 1.2 (114)
15 Bredin Prat & Associés 180 (17.2) 4.7 (448) 4.3 (410)
16 Jeantet & Associés 177.7 (16.9) 2.7 (257) 2,7 (257)
17 White & Case LLP 175 (16.7) 2.7 (257) 2.1 (200)
18 Allen & Overy 173.5 (16.5) 2.2 (210)
19 Willkie Farr & Gallagher 164 (15.6) 2.8 (267) 2.7 (257)
20 Baker & McKenzie 153.5 (14.6) 2 (191) 2.1 (200)
21 August & Debouzy 145 (13.8) 1.5 (143) 1.3 (124)
22 Jones Day Reavis & Pogue 135.4 (12.9) 2.3 (219) 3.3 (315)
23 Lamy Veron/Fromont Briens & Associés 117 (11.2) 1.6 (153) 1.7 (162)
24 Ashurst Morris Crisp 108 (10.3) 1.7 (162)
25 De Pardieu Brocas Maffei & Leygonie 104 (9.9) 1.6 (153) 1.3 (124)
26 Magellan 101.7 (9.7) 1 (95) 1.1 (105)
27 Alexen Avocats 101 (9.6) 1.6 (153) 1.3 (124)
28 Lefèvre Pelletier & Associés 100.5 (9.58) 1.4 (133) 1.4 (133)
29 Sokolow Dunaud Mercadier & Carreras 100 (9.5) 1.9 (181)
30 Alain Bensoussan-Avocats 97 (9.2) 1.3 (124) 1.3 (124)
31 Lovells 90 (8.6) 1.4 (133) 1.6 (153)
32 Herbert Smith 86 (8.2) 1.6 (153) 1.2 (114)
33 Lamy Lexel Avocats Associés 84.6 (8) 1.1 (105) 1.1 (105)
34 Watson Farley & Williams 81 (7.7) 2.7 (257) 2.3 (219)
35 Uggc & Associés France: 74.6 (7.1) 1.1 (105) 1.2 (114)
Globally: 77.6 (7.4) 1.1 (105) 1.2 (114)
36 Bignon & Lebray 73 (7) 1.3 (124) 0.9 (86)
37 Simmons & Simmons 68.5 (6.5) 2 (191) 1.7 (162)
38 DS Avocats 68 (6.48) 1.4 (133) 1.5 (143)
39 Siméon & Associés 66.4 (6.3) 1.3 (124) 1.5 (143)
40 Denton Salès Vincent & Thomas 65.2 (6.2) 1.4 (133)
41 Ginestié Paley-Vincent & Associés 65 (6.19) 1.5 (143) 1.5 (143)
42 Fiducial Sofiral 62 (5.9) 0.8 (76) 0.7 (67)
43 Deprez Dian Guignot 60.5 (5.8) 1.4 (133) 1.4 (133)
44 Klein Goddard Associés 55 (5.2) 1.3 (124) 1.8 (172)
45 Nomos 55 (5.2) 1.4 (133) 1.4 (133)
46 Caubet Chouchana Meyer 54.2 (5.16) 2 (191) 1.9 (181)
47 Dmg-Juris Association 50 (4.8) 1.4 (133) 1.4 (133)
48 Granrut Vatier Baudelot & Associés 50 (4.8) 1.4 (133)
49 Frere Cholmeley Eversheds 47 (4.5) 1.7 (162) 1.6 (153)
50 Vovan & Associés 45 (4.3) 2.5 (238) 2.7 (257)
 
Source: Juristes Associés