The Offshore Firm of the Year shortlist this year was packed full of firms that have been innovative and brave
Narrowing down the entries for The Lawyer Awards Offshore Firm of the Year category is always a tough job, and this year was no exception. The market has become more fluid in recent years, with a steady flow of office openings, lateral hires and other strategic moves.
All the shortlisted firms had an interesting time last year, and all are worthy of recognition. But the winner, Maples and Calder, stands out for consolidating its position as not only the biggest offshore firm but one of the most consistent when it comes to market share and reputation.
WINNER Maples and Calder
After a few years as the second-largest offshore firm in the world Maples and Calder regained the top spot in 2012 following a year of office openings and lateral hires. The firm’s legal and fiduciary arms together now employ close to 1,000 people. Maples’ growth in 2012 saw it promote from within, with 11 associates made up.
It also recruited laterally, picking up a team of seven partners and four associates from Walkers in the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands in a move that set offshore tongues wagging. While Walkers argues that the team were mainly younger partners, it is rare to see such a large group of partners move firms offshore, and the appointments were undoubtedly a good hire for Maples.
Another high-profile hire was Karie Bergstrom’s from Deloitte as chief operating officer in Cayman, a new role designed to co-ordinate global initiatives across the firm.
Last year Maples also invested in technology as it rolled out enhanced, multi-jurisdictional services for clients as well as apps to keep clients up-to-date.
The firm also moved into Singapore, joining only a handful of rivals in the jurisdiction, and launched an Irish desk in Cayman to build on the success of its Dublin office. In Ireland, the firm is now the ninth-largest in terms of size.
Maples also put effort into its diversity programme in 2012 — an area where offshore firms traditionally do badly – and rolled out a series of woman-focused initiatives.
Maples’ global managing partner Henry Smith says: “Our future growth strategy reflects the increasing globalisation of the financial services industry and the important role that Cayman, BVI and Irish companies, partnerships and trusts have come to play in key regions. Given the confidence that international institutional investors have in entities formed under the laws of these jurisdictions and the high degree of compliance with international standards and regulations, these are now regarded as the leading jurisdictions in international business and joint ventures. We expect this trend to continue.”
Smith adds that Maples will continue to reshape itself as the marketplace changes.
“We’d consider ourselves to be a very entrepreneurial, innovative firm that listens to our clients’ needs and, if we see new opportunities, looks to adjust our strategy accordingly,” he says.
2nd Carey Olsen
Carey Olsen’s move to Cayman and the BVI in 2012 was a significant step. The firm chose to go for the greenfield approach to launching in Cayman, picking a team from rivals with the aim of establishing a similar culture in the Caribbean to that which it has in the Channel Islands. Carey Olsen said the move immediately attracted new clients. In early 2013 Cayman was followed up with an association with small BVI firm Hempel and Boyd in a further move away from its Guernsey and Jersey roots.
However, the firm remains closely tied to those roots, playing a key role in developing the islands’ legislation. It also retains a strong place in listed company adviser rankings, acting for more listed clients than other offshore outfits including five in the FTSE100, and while IPOs are still scarce there is a good chance that Carey Olsen will act when there is one.
The firm reported strong percentage growth in both turnover and profit for 2011/12, setting it up well for expansion.
Last year was a crucial one for Walkers. The firm made a significant strategic move when it sold its management services business, Walkers Management Services (WMS), to Intertrust for an undisclosed amount. While other offshore firms of a similar size have largely retained their fiduciary businesses, Walkers chose to offload WMS to focus on law.
The firm also elected its first female managing partner in the shape of Cayman-based Ingrid Pierce. Pierce has been at Walkers since 2002, having joined the firm from the commercial and chancery bar in London. She now has the challenge of leading a reshaped firm, which says it is continuing to evaluate where its clients want it to be in the world.
The year saw success in Asia and other emerging markets, with Walkers pointing to significantly increased billings in China and client wins in the Middle East as a demonstration of its work in these areas.
The firm promoted across its offices, including in Hong Kong and in its still-growing Dublin base.
Bedell Cristin joined the offshore flow into Asia in July last year when it launched in Singapore off the back of its recruitment of BVI lawyer Stephen Adams. The BVI was also a focus with a lateral hire from Appleby to make sure the firm has a presence on the ground in what has become a popular jurisdiction.
Harney Westwood & Riegels has been one of the more aggressively expanding offshore firms in the past year or so, with a steady stream of appointments at all levels and across all offices. Earlier this year Harneys added an alliance in Mauritius, making it the fourth offshore firm there, on the back of its strong strategic focus on emerging markets (see Mauritius focus, page 26).
The 2011 winner of Offshore Firm of the Year continues to benefit from its 2010 merger with stable headcount and expansion into Hong Kong and the BVI. Mourant Ozannes is reporting consistent financial growth and also says it is meeting its strategic post-merger targets.
Ogier won this category in 2012 on the back of its launch in Luxembourg at the start of the year. Luxembourg continues to do well and Ogier is also a regular adviser on offshore issues in some of the biggest corporate deals out there.