US energy giant Sutherland launches in London with boutique merger

Atlanta and Washington DC-based US firm Sutherland Asbill & Brennan is entering the UK market through a merger with London commodities boutique Arbis.

The combination of Sutherland and Arbis will go live today (Tuesday) as the US firm becomes the latest practice to target the energy and commodities market. Arbis will rebrand as Arbis Sutherland in London.

Commodities boutique Arbis, which also has an office in Geneva, was set up five years ago by Paul Sinnott and Mark Aspinall, formerly of Waterson Hicks, a niche shipping and commodities practice. It now numbers four partners and focuses on oil and metals trading.

Arbis partner Paul Sinnott said: “We have a very targeted approach and we have a lot of joint clients. But the parameters of opportunity are greater and we can look at things that we didn’t look at before.”

Sutherland managing partner Mark Wasserman said that talks began in the summer of 2013.  He added: “It’s a natural combination.”

Sutherland, which has 400 lawyers, turns over $305m (£186.4m) and focuses on tax, insurance and energy. Last year its average profit per equity partner was $1.04m. The firm has two Texas offices in Houston and Austin and up until the combination with Arbis had only a small representative office in London. The firms turned to search consultants SSQ to put the deal together.

While further international expansion is not an immediate priority for the combined firm, Wasserman and Sinnott acknowledged that Singapore’s strong position in energy trading made it the most be an obvious place to open.

The combined firm will operate as two LLPs. Aspinall and Sinnott will become partners in the US vehicle and Wasserman and one other US partner will become partners in the UK operation.

Wasserman added: “We’re going to stay focused. You won’t see us adding 50 lawyers in the next year.”