So Clifford Chance is targeting corporate finance, which raises the obvious questions of why and how. Clearly, lots of strategy meetings telling partners they have to do more corporate finance is not going to change the face of the M&A market. If you’ve got any partners who don’t know that if you cross-sell you get more deals, then you’ve gone wrong somewhere.
The truth is, Clifford Chance is pretty good when it comes to M&A, but what it really needs is to start shouting about it (come on guys, don’t be shy). The firm is embarking on a major survey of clients and others across Europe to try and find out what the Clifford Chance M&A unique selling point really is – and then it’ll start shouting about it.
So what does Clifford Chance do that’s better than everybody else? The obvious is global coverage, and it is true that it has got a good European capability, with about 200 M&A partners. The mergers with Pünder Volhard Weber & Axster in Germany and Grimaldi in Italy are strengths. And in France, Yves Wehrli is building a team of corporate hotshots. But in London and the US there are resource issues that hold it back – there are 42 partners in London but it could do with 60, and there are 10 in New York when it needs double that.
But competitors still claim they hardly see the firm, even though in the first quarter’s deals table from Thomson Financial for those involving a European target or acquiror, it comes in close third behind Linklaters & Alliance and Slaughter and May.
The deals list backs this up. There was the celebrated European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company deal where Kate Howles and Mark Carroll advised on its agreement with BAE Systems to rationalise Airbus Industrie. And there was Iberdrola, one of Spain’s largest power companies, which Ignacio Ojanguren and Javier Amantegui in Madrid advised on its $31bn (£21.6bn) merger with Endesa. And who could forget Adam Signy and Katherine Coates’ work with CGU on its £19bn merger with Norwich Union, which involved more than 30 jurisdictions. Clifford Chance obviously did a good job on that, as it beat Norwich Union’s adviser Slaughter and May to become principal legal adviser to the merged group.
However, the US end is a bit patchier. It was the Rogers & Wells relationship, and particularly the former UK head Daniel Bushner, that won the Sema work, advising on its $4.7bn (£3.3bn) merger with LHS Group and then its $5.3bn (£3.7bn) sale to Schlumberger. But apart from Sema, the US end is more a story of potential rather than success. Rogers & Wells boasts some great litigation clients that Europe could do with cross-selling to, and convincing European clients to use the US is high on the agenda.
But if trading on an international network isn’t enough (and for the moment it really isn’t), Clifford Chance will have to start boasting about the jewel of its corporate practice – private equity.
It has been strangely reticent in bragging about the group, and when you think of private equity, you still – outdatedly – think of Ashursts, but Clifford Chance’s is without doubt the strongest pan-European private equity practice. It grew out of finance, when Citibank formed CVC (Citibank Venture Capital) in the 1980s. Since then it has built strong links with Schroder Ventures, Candover, Duke Street Capital, HSBC and KKR.
There were a nice couple of deals for Schroder Ventures last year, such as the £1bn acquisition of Homebase from J Sainsbury handled by partner Matthew Layton, who, together with Jorg Heyer in Frankfurt and Lewis Cohen in New York, also worked on the deal with two electronics wholesalers to buy VEBA Electronics from E.on for $2.3bn (£1.6bn).
The likes of Signy, Layton and James Baird are doing very well, but they could probably do with even more resources, and the next thing has to be to keep building in Paris, Italy and Spain.
So there you go, international network and private equity – the highlights of Clifford Chance corporate. If it learns to sell them, then maybe one day it will become the leading law firm for European M&A. And one day, just maybe, the market will recognise it for it.