Keeping up appearances

The Lawyer Awards 2001 honoured last year’s star players. So have they continued to ride the wave, or are they sitting back and soaking up the glory? Jennifer Currie finds out

We are told that winning isn’t everything; it is the taking part that counts, right? Well, up to a point, because most people will agree that there is something smugly splendid about scooping first place, whether it is in a school egg-and-spoon dash, a race against your competitors for a new client or the Partner of the Year category in a highly prestigious industry gong ceremony. Such as The Lawyer Awards, for example.

But what happens to the winners in the long months that follow on from their moment of glory?

Apart from having one extra trophy to dust, do they ensure that they maintain the good form that prompted the judges to confer top honour on them in the first place?

Or does all that perfectly honed six-pack award-winning muscle simply turn back into flab when the winners grow complacent and let it all hang out again after the ceremony?

As the nominees for this year’s The Lawyer Awards begin to preen themselves in preparation for the bash at the end of the month, we take a look at what has happened to some of last year’s winners during the past 12 months.

In-House Banking and Finance Team of the Year 2001
Standard Chartered Bank

David Brimacombe was promoted to the role of head of group legal at Standard Chartered Bank (SCB) at the end of last year – with a lot to live up to.

With a team of 10 UK lawyers beneath him, and group head of legal and compliance Kate Nealon above him, the legal department was faced initially with the huge task of managing the corporate integration of Grindlays Bank, which SCB had acquired the year before from ANZ for $1.32bn (£905.4m).

With banks spread across multiple jurisdictions, “all of which were separate and distinct businesses”, as Brimacombe points out, the legal team had to unite them under SCB licences as part of a long, complicated negotiation process.
But in general terms, Brimacombe thinks this past year has been relatively quiet.

“We’re gearing up for some activity in China at the moment, which is made more difficult by the absence of property law over there,” he says. “We were pipped to the post of the Bank Central Asia (BCA) tender when we thought we’d been successful; and we’ve been conducting a civil claim in Jordan.

“In the UK, we have a case in the House of Lords – which I optimistically hope we will have won – and we’re involved in substantial disputes in Argentina, Taiwan, Korea, India and Italy.”

A myriad of regulatory issues has been whipped up by the creation of two ‘hubs’ in Indonesia and Malaysia to process the bank’s transactions across the world. Meanwhile, new risk management regulations have meant more work for SCB lawyers, who now have to approve any IT contract where the total spend is deemed to be worth more than £2m. This surge in work means Brimacombe’s short-term plans include hiring another three or four lawyers.

“The bank is not in a particularly litigious mode,” Brimacombe states firmly. “But as an emerging markets bank, we’re particularly vulnerable to sudden hikes in interest rate and exchange rate movements. And as we work across 60 countries, problems are bound to arise. But morale is very good and everybody in the team feels like they’ve done their fair share.”

Management Team of the Year 2001
Osborne Clarke

All things considered, Osborne Clarke’s managing partner Leslie Perrin is far from unhappy about the way his firm has performed in the year since winning The Lawyer’s Management Team of the Year accolade.

“The market has been extremely difficult, but I think we’ve made progress,” says Perrin. “We’ve grown turnover by 20 per cent, we’ve seen a 60 per cent growth in property and 40 per cent in litigation. All the departments have grown, even corporate and TMT [technology media and telecoms], which have both grown by 4 per cent, and they’ve had the most difficult time this year,” he adds proudly.

Earlier this year, the management team and partners faced an equally tricky time when they controversially decided to cancel all of the firm’s equity partners’ quarterly drawings as a precaution against the economic downturn. The move was widely interpreted as the first sign of a slowdown in the firm’s progress. According to last year’s The Lawyer 100, Osborne Clarke turned over £50m, a 40 per cent increase on the £35m figure of the previous year. This year’s rise of 20 per cent to a £60m turnover may not be on the same scale, but Perrin is nevertheless still satisfied with the outcome.

On the upside is the fact that the firm did well in a survey undertaken by The Sunday Times of the 100 best places to work in the country, coming in at 56. Admirable features highlighted by the survey included the firm’s enormous staff entertainment budget of £256,000 per year, as well the fact that three-quarters of employees claimed Osborne Clarke had an “emotionally and psychologically healthy atmosphere”, while 90 per cent thought it was a “great place to work”.

“We haven’t been able to grow profits this year, but that’s life,” says Perrin firmly. “But we have continued to invest in our people and have recently taken on new partners.”
In addition, the shiny new Silicon Valley office has brought in 66 new clients during its first complete year of business, while the start-ups in Frankfurt and Cologne have happily broken even.

Yet despite such apparent outward happiness, rumours persist of tension between the firm’s Bristol and London offices, all of which have been dismissed by the powers that be.

Such gossip was reinforced back in March, however, when a trio of partners jumped ship, including London head of competition Neil Bayliss, intellectual property litigation partner Della Burnside and Stuart Long, a London-based tax partner.

However, recent movements in the other direction have included the hire in April of Adrian Bott, Olswang‘s former head of corporate, who brought Europe’s largest mobile phone retailer Carphone Warehouse with him as a client.

Assistant Solicitor of the Year 2001
Tom Cassels, Baker & McKenzie

“I didn’t remain as an assistant solicitor for very long after winning the award last year,” says Tom Cassels, who is now a partner in Baker & McKenzie’s dispute resolution team.

Cassels was singled out for five minutes of fame last year for his pivotal role in the team, which triumphed on behalf of Camelot against the National Lottery Commission. Since then he has been kept busy as an adviser to Transport for London and London Mayor Ken Livingstone on the prickly issues related to the public-private partnership of London Underground.

Added to that is a case for Versace in Australia and his own personal goal to concentrate on building up his profile as a public law expert. Not to mention the small matter of the publication of Law and the Media, a textbook on media law aimed at journalists, which he has co-edited.

“It’s been a busy year,” he admits. As for the main difference between life as an assistant and as a partner, Cassels states: “I do have a lot more emails to deal with now that I’m a partner.”

In-House Lawyer of the Year 2001
Stephen Scott, Vodafone

As Vodafone’s company secretary, Stephen Scott has successfully steered the mobile phone giant through an awe-inspiring series of deals that led last year’s judges to praise him for his corporate lawyering skills as well as his ability to retain a sense of humour under pressure.
Given the fact that Vodafone’s chief executive recently welcomed the news that the company’s annual loss of £13.5bn – the largest in UK corporate history – as an “occasion for rejoicing”, it would appear that Scott’s good nature has rubbed off onto some of his colleagues.

Scott bolstered his in-house capability back in October when he took on Clare Moulder, one of Linklaters‘ leading capital markets lawyers, as Vodafone’s first internal finance lawyer.

Despite the doom and gloom mustered up in the financial press during recent weeks, Vodafone has been busy. Back in January, it agreed the sale of a railway-specific, fixed-line telecommunications business owned by one of its subsidiaries, Arcor & Co, to the German state-owned railway operator Deutsche Bahn Group, for a cash total of £713.23m.

At the end of May, Vodafone Sweden won a three-year contract to provide services to 28 municipalities in the region of Skåne in a deal of undisclosed proportions. Vodafone group is also expanding its presence in the Far East and recently announced plans to increase its stake in China Mobile (Hong Kong) in order to take its ownership of the company from 2.18 per cent to 3.27 per cent.

Global Law Firm of the Year 2001
White & Case

Content with achieving recognition as a leading international firm, the winner of last year’s Global Law Firm of the Year category is now focusing its sights on more specialised targets in Europe.

“Last year we tended to win things like Best US Law Firm, but now we’re more specific,” says head of banking Maurice Allen, referring to White & Case’s nomination for the Finance Team of the Year Award in the forthcoming The Lawyer Awards 2002.

“Last year we’d really just started out and we were showing a promise of what was going to be rather than a reality,” adds Allen. “We’re continuing to grow and are continuing to do what we said we would do, and that is to build up a serious European practice.”

So far, so good; and the firm has managed to make its presence felt in Europe by scoring a couple of firsts. Back in February, lawyers in the Helsinki office handled the largest foreign real estate investment in Finnish history when they acted for Sponda on the £196.9m disposal of the Itakeskus Shopping Centre to Dutch real estate company Wereldhave. Only a couple of months later the firm advised German gas giant RWE on the privatisation of the Czech gas industry, in a deal worth £2.47bn, earning itself a place in the Czech record books at the same time.

“The main point of London was to help us develop in Europe,” adds Allen. “Now we’re eighth in the European M&A tables and we don’t even claim to be a big M&A firm.”

A recent blip came in the shape of finance partner Colin Potter’s decision to leave White & Case’s London office to join headhunters Global Legal Search. Although with some “serious new clients” bringing in a range of new deal work, Allen feels confident that the firm’s plans are progressing smoothly.

“People are seeing us in high-profile deals and the partnership continues to grow,” he says. “There are very few firms out there who can offer the [level of] quality. So we’ve stepped up to fill in the gap.”

Finance Team of the Year 2001
Allen & Overy

Allen & Overy’s (A&O) finance team has been shortlisted in this category for the third year running and is therefore living proof that it is possible to keep the flab at bay from one year to the next.

Last year’s judges were impressed by the team’s portfolio of telecoms financing work, which added up to more than e10bn (£6.4bn) worth of deals in 2000 alone.

According to banking partner Stephen Kensell, the current economic climate has made life particularly difficult in the telecoms market.

“A lot of telecoms took on a lot of debts. There was a tightening up of the capital markets in general, so we expected 2001 to be pretty grim, but it’s been quite busy. It’s not just been restructuring work either – there’s a lot of new money as well. Deals are getting done,” he emphasises.

Late last year, Kensell led the A&O team through a number of high-profile refinancing projects, including an Italian telecom jumbo worth e8bn (£5.2bn); the team also advised a cluster of banks in connection with a £3.5bn revolving credit facility for mmO2, following its demerger from BT.

Possibly one of the year’s highlights occurred in January, when A&O captured the four-strong acquisition finance team from Norton Rose, a move that the firm admitted was both defensive and tactical, but was one that the firm’s close competitors claimed not to understand.

Corporate Team of the Year 2001
Clifford Chance

Clifford Chance’s corporate team, like all of its rivals, has not enjoyed itself as much as last year, when its private equity team won The Lawyer’s prestigious award. Nevertheless, it has been involved in a number of high-profile deals.

Far and away the most impressive was its role in the combination of the London International Financial Futures and Options Exchange (Liffe) and Euronext, a group of minor European stock markets, to create a new London-based leader in Europe. The deal, worth approximately £555m, set new challenges for the lawyers involved, such as balancing the board’s duty to maximise share value with the desire to develop the business. The issue of shareholder value was complicated even further by the fact that Liffe had several major venture capital shareholders who had to give their full support to any decisions.

Other significant transactions by the corporate team include acting for Candover on a SFr580m (£253.8m) management buyout of Swissport International from bankrupt carrier Swissair, and its role as adviser to the Nomura Principal Finance Group on the £2.01bn disposal of the Unique and Voyager pub groups to a consortium.

Meanwhile, London managing partner Peter Charlton, who won the 2001 Partner of the Year Award, has been busy sorting out the largest lateral hire in the history of the legal profession. Clifford Chance’s plans to hire 21 partners from Brobeck Phleger & Harrison and to open an office on the US West Coast have caused a splash, as it means that the firm is poised to enter centre stage with more partners than any of its major New York rivals.

Charlton may have lost out to Peter Cornell in the race to become the firm’s chief executive officer, but insiders say that, judging by his conduct at meetings, you could be forgiven for thinking that Charlton was the man in charge.

Law Firm of the Year 2001

“I’d say all areas in the firm have had a sound year,” says Robert Sutton, managing partner of Macfarlanes, which was last year’s Law Firm of the Year.

Last year, judges praised the firm for its “constant diet of top-quality private and public M&A work”. In 2001, the corporate practice acted on 63 transactions with a combined value of £57.8bn, while the aggregate of 35 recent deals by the real estate team is somewhere in the region of £1.8bn.

While Sutton is particularly pleased with the growth of some of the smaller departments, such as corporate tax, construction and antitrust, overall he is happy with the way things are going and says that he has no plans to change the firm’s general structure.

“We don’t really go in for any dramatic changes or plans and we remain healthily suspicious of the market and what lies in store,” he comments.

The fact that three partners have just been made up is always a good sign, he says, adding that there are “one or two glimmers of hope” for the future.

“But against the current background, I believe the firm has had a good year,” he concludes firmly.

Barrister of the Year 2001: Rabinder Singh QC, Matrix Chambers

“Arguably, this has been the most successful year of my life,” says Rabinder Singh QC, a tenant of Matrix Chambers and last year’s Barrister of the Year.

At 13 years call and aged a mere 38, Singh was delighted to be named in the round of QC appointments made by the Lord Chancellor this year.

“It’s a very big step to have taken silk and I’m very pleased to have done so,” he says with feeling.

As the human rights, public law and employment specialist who co-founded Matrix with Cherie Booth QC, it is no real surprise to learn that Singh has been involved in a number of high-profile cases this year.

Much of his time has been occupied by the much-maligned London Underground public-private partnership, where he has acted for London Transport. On the human rights side of things, he is currently waiting on a series of judgments from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, where he has been battling against the UK Government for better rights for transsexuals. Singh has also been working with Liberty, the human rights campaigning organisation, on the complicated tangle of issues raised by the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill, which was swept through Parliament in the wake of the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York last September.

Despite all of this, Singh has even found the time to put pen to paper, and recently contributed to a book on privacy and the media in England, published by Matrix, which is intended to provide an introduction to this fast-evolving area of law.

Public Sector Team of the Year 2001: North Yorkshire Legal Services

It appears to have been another stormer of a year for North Yorkshire Legal Services (NYLS), which was singled out for praise at the awards last year for its cooperative approach to the private sector and its impressive portfolio of project work. Thanks to the creation of a neighbouring authority group, which encourages local authorities within a specific geographical area to share out their work, NYLS has gained several new clients, according to Richard Daly, who has led the legal services team for the past six years.

“We’re also still doing massive projects,” he adds, referring to NYLS’s recent role in a deal that contracted out the 200-strong highways direct labour force to a private company.

“The contract will be worth well over £200m and is the biggest the council has ever been involved in,” Daly says proudly. His team is also in the “final throes” of a 10-year information and communications technology project to develop an area network for the council, which has seen the NYLS work closely with Bevan Ashford and learn to rely on email and conference calls.

“One of the lawyers for the contractors was in Canada and the record for the longest conference call was two hours and 40 minutes. I’m not sure who’s paying for that one,” says Daly.

Meanwhile, the NYLS’s award-winning partnering arrangement with Masons has gone from strength to strength. The two sets of lawyers collaborate on training issues and submit joint bids for PFI projects or other public sector work and Daly reports that members of staff have been seconded successfully on both sides.

Daly has also clocked up more than 500 hours writing and updating the council’s constitution, which has been published as a handbook of legal rights for councillors and members of the public. Sadly for the NYLS, this mammoth task is also Daly’s swan song, for he is poised to leave the legal department at the end of July to become the legal adviser to a local probation board.

“I’ve been [at the NYLS] for 20 years, six as the head of legal, and I’ve enjoyed it hugely. But I’m looking forward to the change,” admits Daly.

Niche Firm of the Year 2001: Memery Crystal

This niche firm has managed to top The Lawyer AIM Survey for the second year running, with a total of 34 initial public offerings (IPO), 15 more than its nearest competitor Hammond Suddards Edge.

Corporate partner Lesley Gregory says that the firm’s secret is to “remain focused on what we’re good at doing”.
She adds: “I think we’ve been affected by the slowdown in the IPO market, but we believe that there’s still more work to be done at a more competitive rate.

“We give partner service to our clients, where others might only get an assistant because they couldn’t afford partner rates.”

Memery Crystal is well known for its strong relationships with nominated advisers, particularly Seymour Pierce. According to Gregory, this year has also seen the firm carry out around four transactions for Collins Stewart, a major mid-sized broker.

The firm has recently advised the Wembley gaming group on the sale of its Keith Prowse hospitality business for £5.55m. Memery Crystal also acted for tailoring company and longstanding client Gieves & Hawkes on a recommended cash offer for the company’s entire issued share capital from Marvinbond, worth just under £8m. Just last month, the team advised on the admission to AIM of BioProjects International in a deal that Gregory says generated a considerable amount of press interest.