Gide Loyrette Nouel’s managing partner Stéphane Puel is leading the firm into a new era and trying to put recent challenges behind him.
“Last year was a transition year,” says Gide Loyrette Nouel managing partner Stéphane Puel of 2013 for the French firm.
Puel has now been in charge of Gide, France’s second-largest firm by revenue and headcount and the longest-standing institutional firm in the country, for just over two years. The funds partner took over from Christophe Eck at the start of 2012 (6 December 2011), inheriting an outfit which was struggling with the financial crisis and its own internal strategy.
The following 18 months or so proved torrid for Gide. Although it has stabilised its turnover somewhat in the past three years, reporting revenue of around €192m for 2011, 2012 and 2013, it has done so by continually reducing headcount.
In particular, the first months of 2013 saw several high-profile partner departures in Paris – restructuring partner Olivier Puech quit for Bredin Prat (10 January 2013), real estate partner Erwan Le Douce-Bercot moved to Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer (7 March 2013), corporate duo Serge Tatar and Renaud Rossa left for boutique Lacourte Balas Raquin (8 March 2013), and corporate partners Antoine Bonnasse, Youssef Djehane and Jean-Emmanuel Skovron launched boutique BDGS Partners along with former colleague Antoine Gosset-Grainville and two Gide associates (22 March 2013).
Things then seemed to stabilise, before the announcement in October that the firm was hiring a 19-lawyer team from Morgan Lewis & Bockius (16 October 2013). Not only was the move one of the largest lateral hires in Paris for some time, it also marked a step-change in Gide’s strategy – this is a firm which has traditionally grown organically, particularly in Paris, and the hires took many by surprise. Gide then turned to Dentons for two restructuring partners in the New Year (16 January 2014).
Puel says the move came after 18 months of considering the firm’s position in the market and a recognition that it needed to build up in its core areas – M&A, banking and finance, litigation and employment.
“It’s really the core of our activity which we’re trying to develop, and more recruitment might come in the future,” he says.
Indeed Gide has also recruited internationally, picking up a team from German firm Beiten Burkhardt in Kiev in December (2 December 2013). The timing, just before Ukraine’s political crisis exploded, was unfortunate, but Puel is confident there is still work in the country.
Puel’s tenure so far has also seen a shift in Gide’s international strategy. Although the firm has not moved away from its own network of international offices, since late 2012 (26 November 2012) it has been developing an alliance with Italy’s Chiomenti Studio Legale, Iberian firm Cuatrecasas Gonçalves Pereira and German firm Gleiss Lutz. The alliance’s development has led to office-sharing in London, with Cuatrecasas recently joining Chiomenti in empty space leased by Gide (15 April 2014). More of the same is planned in other jurisdictions where the quartet all have a presence, such as Brussels or Shanghai.
But France remains Gide’s core market and this has been a key focus for its managing partner in recent months. As turnover has stabilised, Puel has been examining costs – including the staffing of transactions, driven by client demand for value. He says profitability has also stabilised.
“The French market has deeply evolved because of the boom of niche firms and the greater presence of international firms, which creates for us competition on both sides,” he says. “This has led us to evolve.”
Puel thinks that Gide over recent months has become a more collaborative place to work with a more targeted sense of where it wants to be. Sources within the market have commented that Gide had begun to lose its way in this regard, with some suggesting that partners had become over-protective of their own clients.
“We’re different in the sense that we’re much more aware of our weaknesses and strengths,” Puel claims. “I think that the partners and associates in Gide right now know exactly what they want to achieve.
“We’re really much more on the offensive than we used to be five years ago. We have to be, and we have to remain a business instititution in our clients’ eyes. The recruitment is driven by that.”
Puel adds that the firm’s management has presented the firm’s strategy to associates, explaining why recruitment is important and that developing talent remains core to Gide. He says this was well-received.
Perhaps having Puel at the firm’s helm will help convince its lawyers this is the case. He has only been a partner at Gide since 2006, having joined the firm from university in the late 1990s. Having a younger managing partner is a real sign that the firm is attempting to move into a new phase of existence as it nears the centenary of its original foundation by Pierre Gide in 1920.
But Puel’s challenge remains to get Gide back into growth mode. Stabilisation is all very well, but with the vast majority of French firms in The Lawyer European 100 2014 reporting turnover growth, Gide must find a way to join them.