Real estate

Poor Nabarro Nathanson. The mid-City firm seems to have developed an un-wanted sideline in supplying the London offices of US firms with some of its most dynamic property partners, something which must be forcing it to question how well it looks after its people.
Most recent to go was highly-rated property finance brain Nigel Heilpern, who has given a new dimension to the London offering of Paul Hastings Janofsky & Walker. Paul Hastings can now boast both a UK and a US qualified real estate partner over here, though on the down side the office did recently lose UK/Ontario qualified Wayne McArdle to Gibson Dunn & Crutcher. Principally a corporate lawyer, McArdle also has a background advising on real estate joint ventures and real estate-related investment transactions.
At Gibson Dunn, real estate is headed by Heilpern's former Nabarros contemporary Alan Samson. Dual UK and US qualified, he enabled Gibson Dunn to gain an early real estate edge in its London office, when he joined in spring 2000. Samson has yet to hire a second real estate partner, but he and two associates have closed some £1.5bn worth of deals in the past 12 months. Perhaps the new year will afford him a little breathing space to sit down with his recruitment consultant.
Jones Day is another name to watch. UK real estate head Linda Fletcher originally trained at Nabarros. She joined Jones Day from Reynolds Porter Chamberlain in 1998, having previously spent some eight years in-house, including a stint with the Marks & Spencer legal team. Fletcher is up for partnership at Jones Day this year. She now works closely with finance partner Martin Bartlam, who joined from Crédit Lyonnais in January, bringing stacks of property finance expertise with him.
And there have been other real estate partner moves into US firms – Andrew Bond was yet another Nabarros partner to be wooed, this time by Altheimer & Gray. But it is Gibson Dunn, Jones Day and Paul Hastings that are catching the eye of their peers for their efforts to go against the grain of US firms in London by carving out standalone real estate practices.
Gibson Dunn and Jones Day played leading roles in Westbrook Partners' recent £365m UK debut – the first stage in its European investment drive and one of the largest property investment deals of the past couple of years. The US investor formed a joint venture with private clients of Jones Lang LaSalle to buy the massive off-market portfolio of properties and was jointly represented by Jones Day and Nabarros. Gibson Dunn acted for the unnamed vendor in the deal. It also has a relationship with Westbrook, but had already been instructed by the vendor when the purchaser took an interest.
Each of the firms has its own approach. Jones Day, for example, has opted to start by building up a pretty broad, almost traditional UK practice that is in keeping with its full-service philosophy. Its practice includes industrial and some retail development, offices, telecoms, environmental and planning work, but is increasingly moving into the finance arena. As well as three associates, Fletcher has hired two paralegals, giving her practice scope to handle landlord and tenant.
Gibson Dunn and Paul Hastings have a somewhat narrower focus. However, what all three have in common is a great position from which to capitalise on the surge of interest from US funds looking to invest in European property as an alternative to equities and bonds. Opportunity funds with plenty of cash are now looking to take advantage of movement in the market and repricing.
Key Paul Hastings clients include Lehman Brothers, Lend Lease Real Estate Investments, Apollo, and Montreal pension fund Caisse de Depot. Samson's practice at Gibson Dunn also acts for Apollo and includes shared Jones Day client Westbrook, plus Boston-based pension fund AEW, Lehman Brothers and JP Morgan Chase.
The funds have been over here for some time, but allocations for Europe have been increasing and with them the number of key personnel being sent here. With all the major funds now present, US firms with a decent real estate capability are hoping they will favour lawyers who can offer the style and approach they are used to getting back home.
julia.cahill@thelawyer.com