Speechly Bircham has made its first foray into overseas markets, opening offices in the financial services centres of Zurich and Luxembourg.
The moves, which were announced last week (TheLawyer.com, 1 June), mark a new stage in Speechly’s development following its 2009 merger with West End firm Campbell Hooper. That tie-up propelled Speechly into the UK top 50, boosting a number of practice areas, including private client.
Managing partner Michael Lingens said private client work was the main area to be targeted in both of the firm’s new jurisdictions, although Speechly is planning to turn this into a much broader offering.
Lingens said the firm would offer clients – including family offices, private investment houses and ultra-high-net-worth individuals – a “broader all-round service” than pure tax and wealth protection advice.
This broader service would include investment structuring, transactions and regulatory advice, said Lingens. The firm is also targeting private banks, fiduciaries and financial intermediaries, all of which are present in Zurich in large numbers.
Lingens said Speechly has been working with clients in Zurich for some time.
“The amount of business has increased substantially over the past three years,” he added.
Speechly is following in the footsteps of Withers in opening in Zurich, with a similar, though not identical, model. Both firms concentrate on foreign law advice in Switzerland.
At Speechly private client partner Mark Summers is relocating to Zurich to head the new operation. He will be joined by two associates, with other partners dividing their time between the offices.
Swiss firms are not averse to UK practices such as Withers and Speechly moving into the market and offering English or other nonSwiss law advice.
Justine Markovitz, head of Withers’ Swiss offices, said the firm had found plenty of work in the jurisdiction since it opened in Geneva six years ago and Zurich earlier this year.
Markovitz added that she welcomed Speechly’s arrival.
“It’s a big market and there’s plenty of room,” she noted.
In Luxembourg Speechly is pursuing a slightly different strategy, although the aims of the office are similar. Instead of relocating English lawyers to the jurisdiction the firm has taken a partner and a tax consultant who previously worked at local firm Oostvogels Pfister Feyten.
The office will be headed by banking partner Françoise Pfeiffer, who left Oostvogels two years ago to establish her own practice, alongside tax specialist Chokri Bouzidi, who becomes a partner at Speechly.
Lingens said Luxembourg was an extension of the firm’s regulatory funds practice and would offer the clients Speechly was targeting in Switzerland access to funds structuring and asset servicing advice.
“It’s a useful adjunct to Zurich,” he said.
Unlike Switzerland, Luxembourg has few international firms and Speechly could well fill a gap in the market, working for clients looking for a more nimble approach than that offered by local practices, which are seen by some as slow and expensive.
The news comes as Speechly announced its financial results for 2010-11. Lingens said turnover was up by 2 per cent to £59.7m, but early profitability figures showed a decrease of between 5 and 10 per cent.
That would see average profit per equity partner drop from the £428,000 achieved in 2009-10 to around the £400,000 mark or lower, although this is still significantly higher than the pre-merger figure of £331,000.
“There’s a lot going on in the firm, so costs were up and revenues weren’t up enough,” Lingens admitted.