Technology Media & Telecoms

When it comes to technology, media and telecoms (TMT), US firms have a head start. The home of Silicon Valley and Bill Gates was cashing in on the brave new world while the UK was still trying to work out how to turn on its Acorn computer.`So it is no surprise that many of the US firms in London are technology-orientated. Shaw Pittman and Brobeck Hale and Dorr came to the UK with the express desire of cracking the IT market, Shaw Pittman focusing on large, outsourcing deals and Brobeck attracting a host of big-ticket clients.`Fellow US player Dorsey & Whitney is different. While undoubtedly a technology firm, it is known for its work on the technical side of TMT, in its case, intellectual property (IP). Its US clients include Agilent Technologies, Novartis and Hewlett-Packard, but being an IP firm is not necessarily automatic introduction to the technology big league, especially when it comes to overseas expansion. After all, this is not the corporate or financial side of TMT, and UK firms are very good at IP, thank you very much.`This may explain why Dorsey failed to make any major impression when it first opened its London doors in 1986. But then Dorsey is not really a firm to leap in head first. The Minneapolis-based practice has never been at the heart of the technology revolution. It may have a West Coast office but only just – it’s in Seattle. London partner John Byrne says that the coffee capital is “where all the guys leaving Microsoft go to do their own things” – in other words, why rush into battle when you can pick off the stragglers?`But after being in London for about 10 years, it evidently decided that the softly-softly approach was not really going anywhere. It began looking round for a UK partner to build up the City practice and found corporate specialist Byrne, a senior equity partner at Nabarro Nathanson.`Since then, the office has expanded from four lawyers to 26, eight of whom are partners. But Byrne says that back then, jumping in and attempting to do the same high-end deals he was doing at Nabarros was going to prove a tad tricky. Instead the office targeted start-ups. “Smaller players do not question size but ability,” explains Byrne.`The office now works for a range of TMT clients. On the dotcom side LetsBuyIt.com is probably one of the more recognisable names, which Dorsey has acted for throughout its client’s brief but erratic life.`But what is particularly impressive about the midwest IP firm is that the London office has managed to get itself an impressive list of institutional clients. This is not some New York-based finance specialist, yet it counts the likes of Swiss fund Index, the technology teams at Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse First Boston among its clients. As well as providing repeat business, such clients have brought a raft of business through Dorsey’s London doors. LetsBuyIt.com came through a recommendation from an institutional investor and although Dorsey had to pitch, there can be no doubt that having the support of the backers must have helped. Likewise, new biotech client Gyrus was introduced through investment bank Bear Stearns.`Online recruiter StepStone also came to the firm this way, as Index was one of its backers. But StepStone illustrates another, less appealing point for the firm – eventually it outgrew Dorsey. While it may have been retained as special IP counsel last year, Osborne Clarke was its main adviser.`The office has evidently taken this on board and is aiming to double in size. Already it has recruited Nadeem Khan from Bird & Bird to set up a property department. And although growth will not be restricted to TMT, it has also hired Hewitson Becke + Shaw IP partners Ian Craig and Niel Ackermann, both of whom are understood to work for Microsoft.`So the future is potentially bright for Dorsey and its tortoise approach, though how bright depends on the lawyers it can attract. But if there are doubts about its ability to attract high-profile players, never forget this is the firm that counts ex-peanut farmer turned vice-president Walter Mondale among its partners. For an IP specialist from the US industrial heartland fighting it out in the City, that’s not a bad start.