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18 November 2013
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SNR Denton’s high-profile transatlantic merger last September heralded a new era of increased global prominence for both legacy firms.
US-based Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal brought additional litigation capabilities to the table, while UK-based Denton Wilde Sapte offered an established network of offices in the UK, Middle East and Africa. But practice heads on both sides of the pond admit that excitement around the energy market was a driving force behind the deal.
New York-based energy practice head Clint Vince says the merger has already translated into a host of cross-border energy opportunities.
“One of the major drivers for the combination was energy and infrastructure,” he says. “We had an energy summit recently and brought in the US leadership and the Denton legacy leadership which was very effective. Now we probably have 50 initiatives going back and forth across the pond.”
Vince and UK-based energy practice leader Christopher McGee-Osborne say the merger has been transformative for both firms.
But commentators in the wider industry believe legacy Denton’s historic domination of the energy arena is being whittled away by hungrier international firms.
McGee-Osborne, who also leads the firm’s energy practices in Africa and the Middle East, claims the firm’s wealth of recent deals in both resource-rich regions proves it is still one of the big players, even if the competition is tougher than ever.
“There’s some justification for saying we’re not as dominant as we used to be, but there are more firms realising this is a profitable field and more firms competing for the work,” he says.
The firm has also tapped into a swathe of UK nuclear decommissioning work.
“We have a team of 50 lawyers in London just doing energy-related commercial and regulatory work,” McGee-Osborne notes. “It’s not a declining part of our business, it’s a growing area.”
In fact, McGee-Osborne has now launched a largescale recruitment drive to find ”significant teams” of lawyers to bulk up energy practices in the UK and Middle East.
“We’re looking to recruit a number of senior partners and those below them,” he says. “If you came to us as a recruiter with a team of 30 we’d be interested. There’s enough work on major energy deals and the regulatory side for us to keep growing.”
The firm has also recently doubled the size of its Africa network by signing up 10 new associate firms, giving it a presence in 21 African countries - a presence it believes is the largest of any international law firm on the continent.
“This is something the UK-based Denton legacy firm brought to the party,” McGee-Osborne adds. “We’ve worked in 49 of the 53 countries in Africa - it’s that kind of scale. There’s lots of work coming out of Nigeria, Mozambique and Botswana. Africa has a lot of resources and the rest of the world is looking for them.”
Recent deals in the region include advising sponsor WIOOC on the East Africa Submarine Cable System, advising Total on the acquisition of the downstream interests of Exxon Mobil in 14 African countries, advising the government of Mozambique on the development of the Pande and Temane gas fields, and the construction of an 890km cross-border pipeline between Mozambique and South Africa.
The firm is also candid about the continuing attraction of Houston and is courting teams of lawyers with a view to establishing an office in the city.
“Houston is one of our highest priorities,” Vince admits. “We are talking to other firms and looking at groups of lawyers. We will need a substantial presence there, not a small outpost.”
SNR Denton is also setting its sights on Asia Pacific as one of the growth areas of the future, and has already acquired a Hong Kong office and expanded in Singapore.
The firm is hotly tipped to be opening two new offices in China in the near future.