Law firms reap £1.2bn from private equity boom

UK law firms made an estimated £1.2bn from the private equity sector last year, according to new figures released by British Private Equity and Venture Capital Association (BVCA).

A number of high-profile takeovers were completed last year, including the Kohlberg Kravis Roberts-backed management buyout of Alliance Boots – the first time a FTSE 100 company had fallen prey to private equity.

Travers Smith head of private equity Charles Barter said the firm had enjoyed a “phenomenal” 2007, adding: “It was our record year – more deals and bigger total value than ever before.”

Law firms were among the top three fee earners within private equity, taking home £1.2bn out of a total of £5.4bn generated across the financial services sector. The BVCA found that more than 200 law firms had provided legal services for the sector in 2006/07, employing a workforce of around 2,000 full-time professionals.

But with a tougher economic climate in 2008, City firms are seeing a downturn in M&A activity.

Barter said: “When it gets like this the pricing gets difficult. Sellers aren’t sure what they are going to get. Those numbers are definitely lower than they were a month or two ago.

“I still think at least we are going to be busy in the short term – for the next two or three months. After that it is difficult to say.”

Macfarlanes corporate partner Ian Martin said the credit crunch was starting to have an impact on larger private equity deals, but remained confident for the year ahead.

“Confidence has gone out of the market. There is plenty of money in the private equity funds but less leverage available.

“Last time we had a downturn in private equity was at the turn of the century. We were lucky with the clients we looked after; we were quite busy. Those clients are still around.”