Taylor Wessing rediscovers TMT with Landwell Paris

Steve Hoare explores the story behind the 30-lawyer defection to set up a Taylor Wessing Paris office

Taylor Wessing rediscovers TMT with Landwell Paris” />Everybody was watching the US firms circling the Paris market like vultures, when in stole Taylor Wessing. Last month, the Anglo-German firm captured a rated 30-lawyer team from accountancy-tied firm Landwell, launching its French office in the process.

Another team fleeing one of the accountancy-tied firms is not a story in France, but this team was hot property and the story of the race to capture it gives an insight into the French technology, media and telecoms (TMT) market and into Taylor Wessing itself.

The head of Taylor Wessing’s new Paris office, Arnaud de Senilhes, had to take his team away from Landwell. The French authorities have passed new laws  inspired by Sarbanes-Oxley, which stop the accountancy-tied firms offering legal advice to Securities and Exchange Commission-registered cli-ents. Of the Landwell team’s income, 30 per cent comes from PricewaterhouseCoopers’ (PwC) audit clients in the US, and those clients demanded a swift departure.

For De Senilhes, Taylor Wessing was an easy choice when he considered three key criteria.

Considering the importance of the US clients, it was essential not to get into bed with a big US firm that would compete with PwC for tax work; De Senilhes expects the stream of referrals from the accountants to continue. He also has close relationships with a number of US firms, including Los Angeles-based entertainment powerhouse Loeb & Loeb, so he had double the reasons to avoid the US firms watching the Paris market.

The second criteria was more of a cultural concern and this is what ruled out a number of French firms. Integrating a 40-person team into an existing firm would not be easy without putting a few noses out of joint. In France, the firms that focus on the TMT world are, for the most part, small outfits of less than 50 lawyers. To bolt on another 30 would probably mean a duplication of practice areas, possible redundancies and years of integration issues. Even to join a French firm of around 100-150 lawyers would be difficult.

The third point is that the Landwell team wanted a credible name. “Creating Arnaud de Senilhes & Partners would have been fascinating for myself, but maybe not for the clients, and I considered that, at least for the time being, it’s not a credible trademark,” said De Senilhes, adding that it would not be a “credible international name”.

But there were other credible international names to choose from. It is understood that Denton Wilde Sapte and Salans came close to securing a deal with the Landwell team. Dentons’ UK media team would have loved to team up with such an established player in France and the firm’s French office is not so large that integration issues would have been a deal-breaker. However, Dentons’ recently-acquired reputation as a Eurosceptic would have counted against it.

Salans would have been an interesting choice. It is not so big in the US that PwC would have objected, but the firm already has around 150 lawyers in France and the Landwell team would have been broken up.

The US factor discounts many of the usual suspects. “Everybody talks with McDermott Will & Emery. They’ve been hovering around the French market for five or six years talking to everybody. They’ve lost all their credibility because they’re voyeurs,” said one French managing partner.

So Taylor Wessing was a nice fit for De Senilhes and his team, but why did Taylor Wessing want them? Since the creation of the Anglo-German firm, the management has expounded its desire to have a pan-European firm and a Paris office is integral to that. “But the French market is a difficult one to break into,” said managing partner Gary Moss.

That it should do so with a pure media and technology team is a surprise. Just when you thought that Taylor Wessing was saying goodbye to technology, it goes and recruits a 30-lawyer media and technology team to launch its French office.

The emphasis of the team’s work is on media and entertainment rather than technology and telecoms. Looking at the French market from a UK perspective, Taylor Wessing’s obvious competitor would seem to be Bird & Bird, which has a similar sized office in Paris.

But Bird & Bird’s Paris office considers Allen & Overy, Baker & McKenzie, Clifford Chance and Lovells as rivals (although this is a gloomy market for deal-based technology and telecoms work and this area may be more of a priority for Bird & Bird than for the others). As Bird & Bird’s Paris head Frédérique Dupuis-Toubol said: “I don’t think that will change because of Taylor Wessing.”

Moss’s analysis is that around half of the French market is populated by Anglo-US firms; the remainder is one-quarter accoutancy-tied firms and one-quarter fiercely independent French firms with a completely different culture. Finding a mate was difficult, but he sees no inconsistency with the firm’s stated strategy of refocussing on technology, corporate, real estate and finance.

The Landwell group lacks a finance capability and has very little strength in real estate, but De Senilhes is committed to increasing the office’s manpower by 50 per cent to cover these practices. In the meantime, Taylor Wessing inherits a group that made E18.7m (£13m) last year. The firm’s total turnover for the last year was £65m. De Senilhes is aiming for a modest E20m (£13.9m) before the input of any new arrivals in the next financial year.

The 30 per cent chunk of work that comes from PwC includes such corporate heavyweights as Sony and Emap, but the other 70 per cent is made up of smaller, mostly domestic clients in the television and film industry. Moss said he is hoping for referrals from that client base, but it is servicing the firm’s existing client base that was the motivating factor for the launch. Hence the need to recruit. “We need to strengthen the office, but as a first step it’s about as good as it can get,” concluded Moss.