Debevoise & Plimpton stunned the US market earlier this year when The Lawyer reported its 2007 financial results. These showed a 23.5 per cent rise in revenue (to £355m) and a 27.2 per cent rise in average profit per equity partner (to £978,000).
The market-busting figures were the perfect response to the perception of several in the market that in recent years Debevoise had been slipping off the pace. Indeed, insiders at Debevoise claim the firm has long considered itself a Wall Street ‘outsider’, lacking the rock-solid investment bank ties of New York’s top six firms.
In 2007 Debevoise certainly managed a decent showing in the global, US and European M&A tables. It scored roles for the supervisory board of ABN Amro on its sale to RBS (led by partner Michael Blair), for the sponsors on the £4.31bn acquisition of HD Supply from Home Depot (Paul Bird), and for CDR in its £2.79bn acquisition of ServiceMaster (Franci Blassberg).
New York-based Blassberg, the lead relationship partner for key private equity client Clayton Dubilier & Rice, is a pivotal lawyer at Debevoise – as is corporate chair Blair. M&A specialist Jeff Rosen, who led the team advising Rank Group in its £1.62bn acquisition of Swiss packaging company SIG, is also highly rated.
The standout year shows there’s not a lot wrong with the firm’s practice, but the Debevoise brand could use a double espresso. The London hire of former attorney-general Lord Goldsmith underlined both its disputes capability and the young(ish) partnership’s appetite for the occasional grand gesture. More, please.
Debevoise has a fabulous brand as a top New York firm, but simply hasn’t developed the international coverage. As one legal market consultant puts it: “It started doing it in the 1990s, then seemed to lose interest. Its rationale appears to be, ‘we’re so profitable in New York, why bother?’.” Last year’s results will have hardly helped to shift this perception. Internationally, Debevoise opened its first overseas office, Paris, in 1964, and its latest, Shanghai, in 2002, just months after launching in Frankfurt the year before.
A perennial subject of magic circle (for which read Freshfields
Bruckhaus Deringer) merger rumours, Debevoise’s 2007 results have given it a real fillip. Long-term it needs to either bite the bullet and get itself hitched, or start taking the roll-out of its international investment seriously.