Byrne in the USA: DLA Piper takes on NY giants

The fourth quarter is still young, but DLA Piper is already projecting global a evenue of $2.5bn (£1.23bn) – an increase of around 15 per cent – for its 2008 financial year.

DLA Piper takes on NY giants” />DLA Piper plans global assault on NY and London

The fourth quarter is still young, but DLA Piper is already projecting global a evenue of $2.5bn (£1.23bn) – an increase of around 15 per cent – for its 2007-08 financial year.

The global revenue would be split approximately 55:45 between the US office and the rest of the world. As reported by The Lawyer (8 October), the firm is pinning its hopes for continued international growth on a key part of its practice – the corporate and finance group now headed by former Cahill Gordon & Reindel partner Roger Meltzer.

Key to the group’s success will be the effectiveness with which DLA Piper manages to integrate its major clients outside the US into its burgeoning New York M&A team.

Last week, the firm’s joint US chief executive Frank Burch laid out his vision for DLA Piper’s future growth. In keeping with the rest of the firm’s recent strategic ambitions, aggressive expansion lies at its heart.

“Clearly there is a process of separation going on in the world’s legal markets, with a cohort of firms chasing a global position,” says Burch. “It’s very hard to predict what the order will be in five years.

“There’s obviously a group of incumbents in New York and London that own the lion’s share of the high-end corporate and capital markets work. But it’s a mistake to assume things aren’t going to change.”

In essence, Burch’s argument is that these New York and London firms place too much of a premium on that incumbent position and there’s a little smugness in their belief that the old order will prevail. Their response, off the record, is that DLA Piper is misguided if it truly believes it presents a challenge for a slice of this market.

But as Burch is happy to outline, DLA Piper’s assault will be neither linear nor frontal. The firm is not going to try to recruit top rainmaking private equity and M&A partners in New York in the short term (Meltzer, arguably, aside).

Instead, the firm’s strategy is to invest in its key overseas markets such as the Middle East, Asia and Africa and work on building relationships with the investment banks, private equity houses and major corporates in those jurisdictions.

It is targeting global growth in four practice groups: corporate and finance; real estate and real estate finance; litigation; and government affairs.

“We’re looking to build strong relationships by handling different kinds of work, such as litigation or real estate, for clients in a number of jurisdictions, and then gradually get ourselves in place to win the bigticket M&A in New York when it happens,” says Burch. “A major global compliance programme for a major corporate or financial services client is a typical DLA Piper way in. You do that work and then expand the work you do for these clients.”

Since Meltzer’s arrival, the strategy has been to aim very aggressively for the corporate and finance work from DLA Piper’s international clients.

“It’s a relatively new exercise for DLA,” adds Burch. “The corporate group used to be focused on emerging companies, technology and so on. Now we’re trying to remix the portfolio. We want to win a larger number of bigger deals and work out the smaller stuff, while improving the gene pool all the time.

“The firm is evolving and you either evolve or you leave.”

King & Spadling jumps on climate change wagon the blog

King & Spalding has launched a climate change practice group in response to the growing importance of environmental issues in the US.

The trend was highlighted earlier this year when King & Spalding Houston partner Tracie Renfroe acted as lead counsel to an oil and gas industry group that included Chevron in a high-profile class action that claimed the emissions from US big business had fuelled Hurricane Katrina.

As Atlanta-based environmental litigator Patricia Barmeyer, who heads the new climate change group, says: “It might sound crazy, but it took a lot of work to get this dismissed, and the other side has appealed.” Barmeyer herself is now embroiled in a battle with environmental advocacy group Sierra Club over the construction of a coal-fired power plant in south west Georgia by her client LS Power. So far, there have been 14 days of testimony at an administrative hearing, which was due to get under way again today (22 October).

“Our clients have a permit to build the plant, but there is opposition to it, so we’re defending their right to build it,” Barmeyer said.

Climate change issues have rocketed up the corporate, and law firm, agenda in the US. The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Al Gore and the UN body of climate experts earlier this month followed legislative reform proposals seeking significant reductions of greenhouse gas emissions from the United States Climate Action Partnership.

King & Spalding’s multi-disciplinary, multi-office group brings together lawyers from a number of departments including its litigation, international trade and transactional teams. It has already attracted its first significant hire in the shape of academic Joost Pauwelyn, of the Graduate Institute in Geneva, who joined the firm as senior counsel last month.

Bingham hunts big name after Tokyo link

Partners from the restructuring group in the New York office of Bingham McCutchen were in a bullish mood last week following the firm’s second Japanese merger in less than a year.

Michael Reilly, head of the firm’s restructuring group in New York, indicated that a significant lateral hire in the city was likely sooner rather than later.

“We’re actively looking at opportunistic additions of lateral partners, but have not set a specific timetable,” said Reilly. “We’re driven by the right person, not just bodies or numbers just for growth’s sake.”

A big-name partner hire would fit with Bingham’s strategy of bringing on board heavyweight figures to give impetus to particular offices. This was most notably seen in London at the tail end of the 1990s with the hire of James Roome, now London managing partner, from Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft.

Bingham’s assault on the Japanese market is different in that the brace of deals it has struck this year cemented relationships that were first forged 10 years ago in the US, when Bingham acquired the US offices of Marks & Murase, a firm linked to the two offices it has added this year in Japan.

“These were two quick deals that were 10 years in the making,” said Reilly. “It’s a jurisdiction and a market that perhaps more than any other place is driven by relationships.”

As reported last week on www.thelawyer.com (9 October), Bingham merged with New Tokyo in the Japanese capital earlier this month. The deal followed Bingham’s merger with another Tokyo-based firm, Tokyo International Law Office, in June. The firm is now on a mission to grow its restructuring practice in New York, as well as in London and Tokyo.

With this year’s deals the firm has one of the largest contingents of bengoshi at around 50. The New York restructuring practice currently features six partners, while Bingham’s US group houses around 40 lawyers.

To read last week’s Byrne in the USA blogs from TheLawyer.com click here.