Lovells opens Madrid practice with new hire

Lovells has solved its Spanish problem with the recruitment of Cuatrecasas head of corporate Jose Maria Balana de Eguia, who will open a Madrid office for the firm.

As first revealed on www.thelawyer.com (26 February), Balana and Lovells have a list of partners at top Spanish firms that they will now try to cherry-pick. It is understood that more hires are imminent.

Balana will not formally resign from Cuatrecasas, Herbert Smith’s best friend, until the middle of next week. He and Lovells declined to comment.

Lovells has been looking for a merger in Spain for much of the last three years. With offices in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, Spain was the obvious hole in its European network. It already has one partner in Alicante, but this office’s focus is patent work.

The City firm has had on-off merger talks with Spanish best friend and rated corporate boutique Albiñana & Suarez De Lezo (formerly Melchor de las Heras) for much of this period. In December 2002, it looked as if the two firms would seal a merger as they moved to the third and final stage of talks. However, as revealed by The Lawyer (17 March 2003), the talks were abandoned just a few months later.

Lovells quickly decided that the best way to plug the gap in its European network was to open a greenfield Madrid office, and it has been looking for a high-profile lateral to kickstart the project ever since. Ultimately, the aim is for the office to be full service.

Some of the firm’s key clients, including Barclays Bank, have Iberian operations. Barclays, one of Lovells’ biggest banking and corporate clients, bought Banco Zaragozano for €1.4bn (£937.3m) last May, using Clifford Chance for advice.