Go East

Go East
Unless you’ve spent 2008 working in a box in the stationary cupboard, you’ll have noticed that firms are banking on emerging markets to get them through the credit crunch – key among those markets is the Middle East.

Unless you’ve spent 2008 working in a box in the stationary cupboard, you’ll have noticed that firms are banking on emerging markets to get them through the credit crunch – key among those markets is the Middle East.

Linklaters is the latest to bulk up in the region, moving London capital markets partner Richard O’Callaghan and banking partner James Martin to Dubai (see story).

This comes just weeks after Denton Wilde Sapte announced it is contemplating offering associates partnership in two years if they agree to a stint in the region; Clifford Chance, Latham & Watkins and Texas-based Vinson & Elkins ramped up there; Washington DC-based Hogan & Hartson opened in Abu Dhabi and New York’s Curtis Mallet-Prevost Colt & Mosle got a licence to open in Dubai. See what we mean?

But while almost everyone is honing in on the region, actual success is still to play for. As our feature last month revealed, while most of the Sweet Sixteen world-beating firms now have the necessary local tie-ups in Saudi Arabia, Linklaters, Latham and Skadden Arps have yet to make ties – and there are just two major Saudi firms left for the three to woo.

And it’s not just about wooing the Saudis. Our UK 200 Annual Report 2008, included with The Lawyer on Monday and featured on TheLawyer.com the day after, anticipates a wave of consolidation in the UK legal market and includes a long list of fantasy mergers.

So who’s on the list? We’d love to tell you, but we don’t want to ruin Monday’s fun.

New kid on the block

It’s been something of a saga, but the row over Bevan Brittan chief executive Stuart Whitfield has ended: the partnership has voted to replace him with a non-lawyer, Andrew Manning (see story).

Pledging to reverse the long period of falling profit with an increase of 37 per cent in his first year, Manning will try to succeed where Whitfield has failed.

In January, Whitfield came out in defence of the firm’s strategy, telling The Lawyer: “We’re reshaping the practice since the demerger and it takes a while to build things back up.” (The Lawyer, 28th January see story)

And it most certainly has.

The “reshaping” has so far involved redundancies including the head of the firm’s Birmingham office, Sharon McCann, as well as a plummet in the firm’s average profit per equity partner from £234,000 to £180,000 in the last year alone.

As some posters on TheLawyer.com have argued, having taken a corporate-style chief executive role rather than one as a traditional law firm managing partner, Whitfield should have taken executive responsibility for the failure to improve and stepped down.

But did he envisage that the “reshape” would put his own head on the block? We think not.

Bevan Brittan partners are impatient for results. And after having voted down their leader, they may prove less hesitant to do so again.

After making some bold promises, former COO, new chief exec Andrew Manning has a lot of expectations to live up to. He may live to be nostalgic of his cosy former job.

Taking a (permanent) busman’s holiday

City law firms are proud of having high-flyers among their ranks, but sometimes it can get the better of them. Especially when they decide to fly the nest that has nurtured them with subsidised canteen food, partner conference jollies and the occasional beautician.

So you might expect Denton Wilde Sapte to be put out that its sole Abu Dhabi-based aviation partner Owain Jones is leaving the firm for a high-flying role of a different nature – as a commercial pilot. Not so – head of aircraft finance Nick Chandler told The Lawyer he’s ‘really pleased for him’. (See story)

What next might we ask? Head of media and sport Adrian Barr-Smith flying down the wing of Manchester United? Or head of energy, transport and infrastructure Chris McGee-Osborne becoming a bus driver?

Stranger things have happened.

Banking on Harvey

Berwin Leighton Paisner is looking to hone its finance sector expertise with the creation of a consultancy role for ex-Barclays banker Peter Harvey (see story).

The firm’s head of finance Simon Allan could certainly do worse than listen to a few choice words from this Barclays veteran. Harvey spent 33 years at the bank – one of BLP’s clients – in several management roles.

An expansion of BLP’s little black book is not guaranteed through Harvey’s connections, but symbolically the hire says a lot about the firm’s continued aim to expand out of its property base and into other sectors.

The firm is keen to have it known that its finance practice has doubled in capacity over the last three years and finance is one of a number of practice areas, including corporate and tax, that have seen heavy investment.

However, despite mammoth efforts, the combined share of the non-property practices as a percentage of total turnover grew by just 1 per cent this year.

The firm will be banking on Harvey to help change that.