No Clout

As an offshore jurisdiction the Isle of Man was lacking the presence of an offshore giant.

Paul Morris

While Dickinson Cruickshank and Cains are considered heavyweights locally, as they do not have offices in the key jurisdictions of the British Virgin Islands, Cayman Isles or even the Channel Isles, the firms are handicapped when it comes to making an impact on the offshore magic circle.

News that Dickinson Cruickshank is in talks to merge with offshore giant Appleby came out of the blue (14 June 2009),  but for the Isle of Man-based firm it will be a major step forward. It also demonstrates a vote of confidence in the jurisdiction and is sure to give Cains some food for thought.

Dickinson Cruickshank senior partner Paul Morris, a well respected figure on the Isle of Man with influence on Manx government policy, said the jurisdiction was perceived to be “lacking because of the absence of a global law firm”. This move, he said, would be of benefit to the Isle of Man as a whole, but added: “The opportunities of being in a firm of that size are enormous.”

At face value it may seem that Dickinson Cruickshank will be the main beneficiary of the deal, being thrust into the offshore spotlight and suddenly having access to a network of global offices – including bases in Bermuda, Hong Kong and the Cayman Isles – stacked with well established lawyers ready to refer work back through the network.

But the strategic move will also have several benefits for Appleby. Historically the firm has used mergers and bolt-ons to gain a presence in key jurisdictions. This is exactly what happened when it tied up with Jersey-based firm Bailhache Labesse in June 2006.  Appleby needed a springboard from which to grow and having that presence established in a new jurisdiction is preferable (and cheaper) to having to make a series of lateral hires – although once the presence is firmly established lateral hires are likely.

Importantly, the move into the Isle of Man will enable Appleby to plug geographical gaps in its marine and aviation expertise, both practice areas where offshore firms must have a presence in the Isle of Man in order to succeed.

On top of that, an Isle of Man office will complement the firm’s presence in Mauritius. Both jurisdictions are essential if an offshore firm is  going to make headway with the Indian offshore legal market.

Appleby global managing partner Peter Bubenzer is clear that the firm needs to target emerging markets if it is to succeed post-recession. Targeting work out of India is key to that strategy.

Likewise, the firm’s move into the Seychelles last month (29 June 2009) is aimed at winning instructions from the African, Asian and Indian marketplaces.

Bubenzer said the tie up with Dickinson Cruickshank “gives us the opportunity to stake ourselves as the leader in the offshore world”.

In the short term Dickinson Cruickshank has everything to win from this merger. In the long term, however, it is Appleby that has the potential to benefit the most as it will be the only offshore firm with offices in all major jurisdictions including Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.