Ogier triumphed in this year’s Lawyer Awards offshore firm category, but what set it apart from its peers?
The offshore legal market remains a small one – indeed, consolidation is still the trend – but the quality of the firms active in this sector is consistently high and workflows are strong.
Entrants for the Offshore Law Firm of the Year category at this year’s Lawyer Awards came, as ever, from across the market. Former winners jostled for a place on the shortlist with those who had never picked up the prize.
Ultimately, it was Ogier that triumphed, on the back of an expansionist year that saw growth into new markets. The firm has shown a clear vision and is unafraid to attack an opportunity. And history has shown that where Ogier leads, others will eventually follow.
The shortlisted firms:
Appleby’s swift expansion in recent years has often raised eyebrows among its competitors, but 2011 perhaps showed the strategy is beginning to pay off. The firm boasts it is the only offshore outfit present in all three Crown Dependencies – Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man – and this is having an effect on its client base.
Client referees told The Lawyer that one reason they instruct Appleby is because it is capable of advising across these jurisdictions. In the Isle of Man in particular the firm’s merger with Dickinson Cruickshank three years ago has made a real impact. The sheer scale of Appleby’s global offering means it has been able to outpace the local Manx firms.
That global offering is expanding further with the launch of a Shanghai office this year. Appleby is beginning by opening fiduciary operations in mainland China, but will follow up with legal when the time is right.
The firm is also focusing on Asia in other ways, for example by moving a litigation team out to Hong Kong to provide on-the-ground support to clients with disputes in the Cayman Islands or the British Virgin Islands.
Crucially, Appleby has managed to move away from its Bermuda roots to become a global player. For some, this has been at the expense of a consistent marketing message across the firm’s network – but, say clients, not at the expense of responsiveness or the ability to deliver results when it matters.
Group chairman: Peter Bubenzer
Managing partner: Michael O’Connell
After more than 60 years of focusing on the Channel Islands, Bedell Cristin broke new ground in 2010 when it launched an office in Mauritius. The international expansion continued this year, with the firm hiring Stephen Adams, formerly of BVI firm Baker Adams, to launch in Tortola. Adams joined Bedell Cristin in February 2012.
Bedell Cristin has gone about its expansion in a typically quiet way, but is aiming to set itself up for the environment the offshore sector now finds itself in. Last year saw an internal reorganisation into three business lines – corporate and financial services, litigation and insolvency, and private client.
Litigation is, unsurprisingly, a particular focus at the moment. The firm recently boosted its small Guernsey contentious presence with the hire of AO Hall lawyer Jon Barclay as a counsel. Another key lateral during the year was that of Ogier lawyer Bruce Scott to head up the firm’s London office.
Clients praise Bedell Cristin’s “willingness to help” and despite the firm’s small size it wins work on some considerable deals. A key transaction in 2011 was the financing of high-speed internet venture O3b Networks, involving several tranches amounting to $1.2bn (£6.4m). Bedell Cristin provided Jersey law advice to the lenders, working alongside Allen & Overy.
Managing partner: Richard Gerwat
Conyers Dill & Pearman
The differentiating factor between Conyers Dill & Pearman and its peers is its offices in Moscow and São Paulo. The firm is the only offshore outfit with offices in Russia and Brazil, and it ticks the other BRIC boxes by also being present in Mauritius – providing a door into India – and Hong Kong, for Chinese work.
In 2011 the firm’s emerging markets presence really did pay off, with instructions on some of the largest deals to affect the offshore sector. In Russia, Conyers advised on the $4.6bn merger between Moscow Interbank Currency Exchange and the Russian Trading System stock exchange, which called into play elements of Bermudan, BVI and Cayman law. Conyers says its Moscow office grew by 21 per cent between 2010 and 2011 and the firm has been hiring and relocating staff there.
From Brazil, the firm most recently picked up an instruction for both the issuers and the banks on the $2bn IPO of Banco BTG Pactual in April 2012, while Mauritius gave the firm an instruction on Vodafone’s £3.4bn acquisition of a stake in its joint venture with Indian energy company Essar.
Conyers’ clients praise the firm’s ability to find solutions for knotty problems. “It was a proactive process with them,” says one of a particularly complex transaction completed last year.
Chairman: John Collis
Harneys has had an explosive year, hiring teams of lawyers around the world with a particular focus on litigation and its Latin American practice. The firm opened an office in Uruguay in 2010 and followed that up last year by appointing a permanent representative in Brazil. Both moves were met with surprise by some of Harneys’ rivals, but market sources believe the firm’s commitment to the Latin American region is bold and foresighted.
The moves paid off in 2011 with key client wins such as Brazilian banks Bradesco and Banco Itaú, and a role on SAB Miller/Bavaria’s $1.3bn bond listing in Cayman – the first ever by a Latin American company.
Harneys is committed to other emerging markets too. Last year the firm also appointed permanent representatives in Central and Eastern Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa. In Asia it established a Hong Kong litigation desk, foreseeing a growth in work from this area involving British Virgin Islands and Cayman structures.
The firm is also hiring lawyers who are native speakers of Russian, Spanish, Portuguese and Chinese, enabling it to tick all the emerging markets boxes although it is not necessarily present in all the jurisdictions it is targeting.
Managing partner: Richard Peters
Maples and Calder
When Maples and Calder launched its Dublin office in 2006 several eyes were raised offshore – but six years on the firm’s decision to move onshore has paid off. Even clients focused on Maples’ traditional offerings now cite the ability to get Irish advice as a key factor in instructing the firm. Dublin continued to grow in 2011 with the hire of another two partners and the promotion of three. But this growth was not at the expense of Maples’ core offshore offices, which also benefited from both hires and promotion.
Maples is described by clients as good value and easy to work with, and for some has overtaken its rivals as the go-to firm in Cayman in particular. It continues to pick up instructions on high-profile, high-stakes work, such as its ongoing advice in the mammoth Alfa Telecom Turkey v Cukurova case, which went to the Privy Council earlier this year.
In March it emerged that Maples had snared a 10-strong team, predominantly in Cayman, from Walkers to significantly boost its investment funds practice. Competitors described the move, which adds seven partners to Maples’ team, as significant and a testament to the firm’s commitment to the key funds sector.
Managing partner: Henry Smith
Last year’s winner Mourant Ozannes had another solid year, consolidating what has proven to be a useful merger between Jersey firm Mourant du Feu & Jeune and Guernsey firm Ozannes. Without giving financial figures, the firm said turnover rose by 6 per cent and profitability by 13 per cent on the previous year.
The larger base provided by the merger helped Mourant Ozannes to follow many other offshore firms into Hong Kong in 2011. The firm relocated one partner, Paul Christopher, and hired two others for the launch, which finally happened in January after several months’ planning.
The merged firm has managed to retain lawyers and has won panel spots or first-time instructions from a range of clients, including Barclays, Santander, Hutchison Whampoa and Kleinwort Benson.
Among the transactions on a strong deal list was the advice provided to commodities trader Glencore on its record-breaking London and Hong Kong IPOs. Mourant Ozannes was the company’s Jersey legal adviser, alongside onshore counsel Linklaters, as Glencore listed in May 2011.
Managing partner: Jonathan Rigby
The winner of offshore firm of the year 2012 is one that has made a name for itself as a firm that is prepared to take a lead. Ogier was the first offshore firm to build a transatlantic practice when it merged with Boxalls in Cayman in 2004. While it was not the first into Asia, it did become the first offshore firm in mainland China last year.
In February 2012 Ogier followed the new Shanghai office up with the announcement that it was also going to be the first offshore outfit into Luxembourg, a jurisdiction long-touted as a possible source of opportunity for the market. Its move has been welcomed by Luxembourg incumbents, who see any arrival as a sign of confidence in their ambitious jurisdiction.
But as well as being forward-thinking, Ogier also wins plaudits from clients for being, as one put it, “unfailingly efficient and pleasant, and very good at what they do”. Law firm and corporate clients alike praise Ogier’s lawyers for their technical expertise and their proactive, responsive approach to transactions.
On that front Ogier also stands out. Key deals during the past year include providing offshore advice to GDF Suez as it merged with International Power, as well as structuring the tricky Cayman aspects of a merger between two subsidiaries of Brazilian bank BTG Pactual – the first time revised Cayman companies law had been exploited. Ogier also won a role on the IPO of Glencore in Hong Kong, and is advising the Carlyle Group on Guernsey’s largest ever piece of litigation. The work demonstrates Ogier’s success in winning work around the world.
The firm’s growth and deal list are testament to Ogier’s determination to be a true worldwide presence and its willingness to put its money where its mouth is.
Group CEO: Nick Kershaw
Legal CEO: James Bergstrom