In an increasingly crowded market, Clifford Chance is one name bouncing consistently around the top echelons of the energy industry.
From its high-profile Nord Stream work to big-ticket Saudi oil mandates and a long history of nuclear work in the UK, the magic circle firm’s enviable network of offices and ability to deploy partners to new opportunities has paved the way to success.
The firm also stands out from many of its international peers by placing sector expertise ahead of legal specialism, creating a dedicated team of energy lawyers rather than a more integrated practice model.
“We’ve produced a generation of lawyers who see themselves as energy specialists,” claims energy practice group chair Andrew Grenville. “They have a deep, specialised knowledge of the industry but a broad capability in legal product terms. Clients see this as attractive. They don’t want to see a huge team of lawyers each doing a small piece of the work, they want to see lawyers who are immersed in the energy practice and are talking the language of the energy industry.”
London-based energy partner Russell Wells, currently advising export credit agencies and lenders on the $7.2bn Nord Stream pipeline project, adds: “We see the energy practice as a distinct sector without being pigeon-holed within the finance or corporate practice.”
Energy has been a driving factor behind Clifford Chance’s rapid global expansion in the past 12 months, including the opening of an office in Istanbul in April led by partner Simon Williams.
The firm has been active in Turkey for more than 30 years, but Wells expects the new office will allow the firm to better serve clients across Turkey and south-eastern Europe.
“The opportunities for Turkey as a bridge between East and West in the energy and infrastructure space are quite significant,” he says.
On the other side of the globe, Clifford Chance has strengthened its standing in resource-rich Australia and the Asia Pacific by pulling off a double merger with boutique firms Chang Pistilli & Simmons in Sydney and Cochrane Lishman Carson Luscombe in Perth, creating a 14-partner practice across the two cities.
“A lot of the large global deals in the energy and natural resources sector have an Australian piece to them,” Grenville says. “The links between China and Australia are also growing closer in terms of resources, and lots of projects have an Australian angle. That gave us the impetus for the mergers.”
Clifford Chance is due to open its new office in Qatar soon, subject to licence approval, which will strengthen its existing Middle East presence in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
“There’s more outward work emanating from Qatar as the sovereign wealth pool gets greater from natural gas assets, and it’s important to have a Qatar office for that purpose,” Grenville says.
Despite the dramatic expansion of Clifford Chance’s network, the firm has so far kept its powder dry is Africa.
Grenville and Wells insist Africa is a key focus, but rather than forming associations with local firms Clifford Chance has opted to run an integrated ’virtual network’ servicing Africa from the firm’s London and Paris offices.
“We have the virtual network across Africa and we’ve spent a lot of time and energy to make sure we’re able to take on projects in almost every country in Africa,” Grenville insists.
A region in which the energy head does admit to needing more coverage is South America. Although new office launches may not be on the cards, Grenville is keen to bulk up the Sao Paulo office in response to workflows in the region and other international firms’ new interest in Brazil.
“We’re redoubling our efforts in Latin America at the moment,” Grenville says. “We were one of the first into Brazil and the interest and activity of other firms coming into these markets is good for us because it demonstrates that opportunities are expanding fast in these locations.”
Nicholas Wong, Russell Wells, John Wilkins, Anthony Giustini, Simon Williams
Top three sectors
Oil and gas
Top three geographical regions
Middle East and Africa
The $7.2bn multilateral financing of the Nord Stream pipeline project
Client: Export credit agencies and commercial lenders
Lead partners:Anthony Giustini, Nicholas Wong
Total’s $9.6bn joint venture with Saudi Aramco to construct major oil refinery
Lead partner: John Wilkins
Horizon Nuclear Power’s joint venture between RWE Npower and E.on UK
Client: Horizon Nuclear Power
Lead partner: Andrew Grenville