Currently the firm with the UK’s most cumbersome name, CMS Cameron McKenna Nabarro Olswang was created by the merger of three firms in 2017 – a huge story that caused massive interest across the legal profession at the time. The largest firm in the three-way tie-up, CMS Cameron McKenna, was itself the product of a merger, the 1997 tie-up between financial services and insurance-focused Cameron Markby Hewitt and construction and energy-focused McKenna & Co. Cameron Markby Hewitt was more establishment, while McKenna
Currently the firm with the UK’s most cumbersome name, CMS Cameron McKenna Nabarro Olswang was created by the merger of three firms in 2017 – a huge story that caused massive interest across the legal profession at the time.
The largest firm in the three-way tie-up, CMS Cameron McKenna, was itself the product of a merger, the 1997 tie-up between financial services and insurance-focused Cameron Markby Hewitt and construction and energy-focused McKenna & Co. Cameron Markby Hewitt was more establishment, while McKenna & Co was more entrepreneurial.
Camerons was an early investor in the European market, especially in the former Soviet bloc countries. It opened in Moscow in 1992, barely two years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In the early part of the 2000s Cameron McKenna established a strong Eastern European network of offices with its major operation in Prague.
Further West, the law firm formed an alliance with Bureau Francis Lefebvre in Paris, one of the largest firms in France and best known for its tax advice, and Hasche Sigle, a German firm whose headquarters were in Hamburg but which had broadened its offering to major cities in Germany. That alliance was formalised into an EEIG structure (European Economic Interest Grouping). The international secretariat of the CMS organisation is run from Frankfurt and all members of the EEIG carry the CMS brand in front of their legacy names.
In the UK, Cameron Markby Hewitt opened in Bristol in the 1990s in order to serve Lloyds Bank, its key banking client. Major expansion in Scotland came in 2014 when the firm merged with ailing blue-chip Scottish firm Dundas & Wilson. The merger strengthened the firm’s relationship with RBS and added to its existing Aberdeen operation which was set up as part of the firm’s energy sector focus.
Richard Price, the firm’s best-known corporate lawyer, was the senior partner in the 2000s and Richard Tyler the managing partner, succeeding Robert Derry-Evans, who had led the original Cameron Markby Hewitt merger. Tyler was replaced by Duncan Weston in 2008; Weston had previously run the firm’s Eastern European offices.
Even before the three-way merger, there was some confusion about the brand. As is evident from its website the UK firm prefers to brand itself as ‘CMS’ rather than CMS Cameron McKenna or any other iteration thereof, but it has had trouble making that idea stick with the rest of the market, which regularly still refers to the firm as Cameron McKenna or just Camerons.
Nabarro – originally Nabarro Nathanson – was for years the best-known West End firm.
It moved mid-town at the end of the 1990s, a significant moment in London legal history as its move signalled the decline of West End firms within the city’s legal ecoculture.
The firm’s real estate practice, based originally on listed UK property companies, was undeniably powerful. However, despite efforts by managing partner Nicky Paradise and senior partner Simon Johnston to cultivate a ‘City’ image and be known for more than its property work, Nabarro struggled to keep pace with other mid-size firms in the early 2000s and never managed to develop a corresponding corporate practice. A rebrand came in 2008 when it dropped the ‘Nathanson’ from its name and produced a series of videos starring comedians John Bird and John Fortune entitled, ‘The Law, Ungobbledegooked’ to emphasise the firm’s focus on clarity with clients.
Unusually for a London firm at the time, Nabarro had a regional office as far back as the 1990s, the firm having taken over British Coal’s legal department in Sheffield to do environmental and property work. The office was also distinguished by its personal injury team, working on miners’ ailments such as respiratory diseases and vibration white finger.
Never particularly international-focused, Nabarro had a short-lived referral alliance with Weil Gotshal in the early 1990s and alliances in Europe with GSK in Germany and August & Debouzy in France. Its first big international push came when it opened in Singapore in 2010, but most of its significant moves were domestic. It entered the Manchester market in 2014 with hires from Addleshaw Goddard. The firm was no stranger to Addleshaw Goddard, having briefly held merger talks with the firm in late 2012/early 2013. They came to nothing, with Addleshaws reluctant to pursue a deal.
Olswang was set up in the late 1980s by Simon Olswang, who had spotted a niche in media and telecoms as well as defamation. It grew fast in the 1990s and early 2000s, especially when Jonathan Goldstein took over as managing partner. During this period, its media reputation gave the firm a good deal of glamour, especially on campus where its trainees would turn up to law fairs in combats while their peers at other firms were in suits and ties. This reputation never fully faded, though by the late 2000s Olswang was making efforts to project a more corporate image.
The firm diversified away from media work into real estate by taking over the property team of the disintegrating DJ Freeman in 2003. Around the same time it beefed up its corporate/private equity team with hires from the likes of BLP and embarked on a US alliance with Greenberg Traurig.
Under David Stewart’s reign as managing partner Olswang made moves into Europe, with mixed results. However, it struggled to maintain profitability from 2012 onwards and the latter years of existence were marked by falling revenue and management strife.
CMS Cameron McKenna was without question the dominant force in the three-way merger of 2017. It was the largest of the three firms by far, and its lawyers took the bulk of leadership roles within the new firm. Just one Nabarro and one Olswang partner would lead a practice area single-handedly when the merger went live on 1 May 2017: Nabarro senior partner Ciaran Carvalho headed up the global real estate group at the combined firm, while Olswang partner Iain Stanisfield got the job leading the UK commercial practice.
In the wake of the merger the staff of the other two firms moved into CMS Cameron McKenna’s building.
For Olswang, it is widely accepted that the merger was little more than a rescue deal: the firm had been struggling for some time. The bigger question the market had was what was in the deal for Nabarro which, while not exactly forging ahead, was not in significant difficulties.
The question of what comes next for CMS Cameron McKenna Nabarro Olswang is clear enough. It is firmly committed to a US merger.
What is the trainee salary at CMS Cameron McKenna Nabarro Olswang?
1st year trainee: £43,000 (London); £38,000 (Bristol); £28,000 (Manchester & Sheffield)
2nd year trainee: £48,000 (London); £40,000 (Bristol); £31,000 (Manchester & Sheffield)
What is the NQ salary at CMS Cameron McKenna Nabarro Olswang?
NQ solicitor: £82,000 (London); £50,000 (Bristol); £42,000 (Manchester & Sheffield)