Norton Rose's US group challenges magic circle

Norton Rose comes up trumps on Rule 144a equity deals; results show US practices burgeoning

The US group at Norton Rose is snapping at the heels of its more established magic circle counterparts when it comes to equity transactions. According to exclusive research carried out by The Lawyer, the two-partner team in London has handled just one fewer Rule 144a equity deals than Clifford Chance in the past two years.
The result belies the group's relative youth. The group was set up three years ago and has made an impressive start. Its tally of 31 144a equity deals for 2000 and 2001 includes initial public offerings for easyJet and Fox Kids Europe.
US partner Richard Baumann said: “I'm pleased. We've been working really hard. We think we're top quality and I hope our numbers reflect that.”
Fellow partner Tom Vita said: “I'm not surprised that we've done well. Virtually all London listings of any size these days have a 144a tranche to them. We might not get the biggest deals, but we get the volume and that's what counts.”
Jeff Golden's London US practice at Allen & Overy handled 34 144a equity deals. Had its debt transactions been included, its 144a total would have soared to 110 transactions. For debt and equity combined, Linklaters acted on 89 deals, but did not break down its total.
Rule 144a equality aside, US groups in the magic circle firms trounced their UK competition for more elusive Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)-registered equity transactions, with Clifford Chance just pipping its rivals to the top spot.
Figures for equity activity among US groups at UK firms show that the long-term investment in US-law capability, begun in the mid-1990s, seems to be paying off. Clifford Chance handled 11 SEC-registered equity transactions, putting it just ahead of Freshfields' total of nine.
Although Linklaters was unable to break down its figures for specific offices, it chalked up nine deals for the full international network. The US group in London provided US-law advice to the German government as selling shareholder on the offering of shares for Deutsche Telekom, a deal which raised $13bn (£9.2bn).
Allen & Overy did not provide numbers, but said that its work has included acting for Royal KPN on the largest SEC-registered Dutch equity offering. The deal raised f5.5bn (£3.37bn).
Neither Norton Rose nor Herbert Smith acted on any SEC-registered equity offerings. Both claimed to have been instructed, but said that prevailing market conditions changed the emphasis of those deals as they proceeded. For other City firms that preceded them into US-law territory, a strong 144a portfolio has been a solid foundation to build their practices on.
Herbert Smith has completed 16 144a equity transactions during the past two years. Partner Alan Hanen said: “We've been involved with some of the largest equity offerings in 2001, including Friends Provident and Michael Page, and we're delighted with the quality and progress of our 144a practice.”
However, one partner at a US firm was more cynical about the results, and said that it all hinges on the definition of a 144a deal. He said that just because a 144a provision was put into an underwriting document it does not necessarily follow that securities were sold or marketed in the US.
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