Many of the firms interviewed for The Lawyer’s 2004 AIM survey seemed giddy with success, raving about deals to come in 2005 without ever articulating a coherent strategy.
For years, AIM has been the playground of mid-tier and national firms romping through a high volume of simple transactions. Tightening regulations and the internationalisation of the market is likely to benefit the few City firms that have piled into AIM, but the likes of Norton Rose and Simmons & Simmons should not be popping the corks just yet.
In AIM terms, Norton Rose had a storming year, and Simmons didn’t do badly either, just sneaking into the top 20. The threat to any aspirations they may have of dominating this resurgent market comes from the US.
Simmons’ biggest deal of the year was the £78.2m float of Star Energy, won through a personal contact at Hoare Govett, former partner Ed Lukins. Lukins quit for Morrison & Foerster soon after its completion and was joined by Weil Gotshal & Manges corporate pair Paul Claydon and James Gubbins. Both parties took AIM work with them.
The theory they are now peddling is that, as AIM falls more into line with international financial standards, its listing documents will begin to look more US in style. Hence the need for a US firm.
Simmons partner Tim Field is the daddy of high-end AIM deals. He led on the groundbreaking Northumbrian Water accelerated initial public offering, then repeated the trick with Center Parcs. Simmons will need to hold on to him if it is to retain a presence in the developing market.
When Martin Thomas left Hammonds for Hunton & Williams it looked like another nail in the coffin for an old AIM heavyweight. His sales pitch revolves around US companies fleeing Sarbanes-Oxley for the comfort of AIM, which sounds good in theory, but may prove tougher in practice.
Another firm that might benefit from its new US status is DLA Piper. While Charles Russell and Norton Rose have done well out of the flourishing mining, oil and gas sector, much of DLA Piper’s 2004 success has been allied to the resurgent technology, media and telecoms (TMT) market.
But if the mining boom sounds too much like the Wild West (or Wild Middle East?) and the return of TMT comes too hard on the heels of the dotcom crash, perhaps the rank and file should stick to a generalist approach. But where will that leave them when this particular bubble bursts?
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