ABN Amro panel win pays off as City firm scoops takeover work for Morrisons

Ashurst Morris Crisp has won the legal advisory role for William Morrison Supermarkets' £2.9bn takeover of Safeway, thanks to a recommendation from ABN Amro, the investment bank on the deal.

Morrisons has no internal legal capacity and uses medium-sized Bradford firm Gordons Cranswick as its de facto in-house legal adviser. The Bradford firm does all of Morrisons' property, corporate and employment work, but ABN Amro wanted a City firm for the public takeover.

The investment bank reviewed its panel in mid-2001, adding Ashursts to its group of legal advisers. Also on the panel are Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, US firm Davis Polk & Wardwell, Eversheds, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters and Norton Rose.

ABN Amro held a beauty parade of several of its panel members in the autumn, ultimately selecting Ashursts for the job. The ABN Amro relationship partner at the firm Paul Gadd was called in to advise Morrisons in December and led on the deal.

Safeway's usual corporate firm Clifford Chance advised on the other side, with Neil Harvey and Kathy Honeywood leading.

Although Safeway is the larger company in terms of the number of stores, Morrisons is the more profitable outfit, and its shareholders will hold 53 per cent in the new company.

Morrisons has not needed a City adviser in the past because the company has not been active in M&A and has no debt, so does not need finance lawyers. So although the deal went well, unless the company has a change of strategy Ashursts may not bag many future instructions.