All firms great and small remain wise and wonderful despite recession woes

The Lawyer Awards Corporate Team of the Year shortlist was again inundated with worthy winners, says Catrin Griffiths

Malcolm Lombers

Malcolm Lombers

Over the years the shortlist for the corporate team of the year in The Lawyer Awards has closely reflected the trends in the deals market. This year is no different. Inevitably, there is a strong flavour of the financial crisis; the shortlist includes rescues, rights issues and plenty of deals in highly regulated sectors.

One might imagine there would be fewer entries for corporate team this year, given the downturn; in fact, the judges have been inundated with submissions. The shortlist includes not just the big beasts of the City, but smaller practices that punched above their weight in 2008-09.

Take Addleshaw Goddard, shortlisted for its role on Co-op’s takeover of Somerfield. The firm describes the £1.57bn acquisition as “transformational”, creating the largest food retailer in the UK. Paul Devitt, now Addleshaws’ managing partner, made what is presumably his last M&A appearance for a while, leading the Manchester team which also included Jim Tully and Richard Thomas. Notably, the Co-operative Group’s in-house team was strongly involved in the transaction, led by group counsel Philip Hardman and director of acquisitions and disposals Guy Halifax. Addleshaws did not lead on all the issues – Clifford Chance dealt with merger control, for example – but the transaction was notable for its regulatory input, which was largely handled by the national firm.

Another outsider from the dealmaker City elite is Hogan & Hartson. Little known in the City, its small London office nevertheless managed a 19-jurisdiction transaction, advising Ford Motor Company on the $2.3bn (£1.52bn) sale of its Jaguar and Land Rover ­subsidiaries to Tata Motors. Described by Hogan as an ­”enormously complex divestiture”, the deal also required nimble ­regulatory footwork.

Herbert Smith continued its run of contested M&A work with a number of public takeover deals, including advising on Lonmin’s successful defence against Xstrata’s $10bn (£6.6bn) hostile offer, and Resolution on its £8.6bn merger with Friends Provident. Its place on the shortlist for ­Corporate Team of the Year was assured by its role advising ­Eléctricité de France (EDF) on its £12.5bn takeover of British Energy. The deal, led by Michael Shaw and Mark Newbery, also required negotiations with the Government and necessitated an innovative listed contingent value instrument called Nuclear Power Notes.

Clifford Chance, which was on the other side of the table from Herbert Smith on the EDF deal advising long-time client British Energy, is shortlisted for its role on Chinalco. Kathy Honeywood, Nigel Wellings and Rupert Li advised Chinalco on the $14bn (£9.2bn) acquisition by its wholly owned subsidiary Shining Prospect, of approximately 12 per cent of the share capital of Rio Tinto, followed by the $19.5bn (£12.9bn) partnership with Rio.

Norton Rose’s success in hanging on to HSBC as a trophy client, despite all the odds, has been well documented by The Lawyer in recent months (9 March 2009). Its appearance in the awards shortlist is primarily for its work on the bank’s £12.5bn rights issue in London and Hong Kong – hot on the heels of the Carlsberg ­offering.

Linklaters was the other major legal player in the highly complex Carlsberg saga. Matthew Middleditch and Julia Woolf advised Sunrise Acquisitions, a vehicle owned jointly by Carlsberg and Heineken, on its £7.8bn acquisition of Scottish & Newcastle. Its work on Carlsberg made the shortlist, but its strong showing across the board in corporate – it advised Lloyds TSB on its politically significant acquisition of HBOS – did not go unnoticed.

Credit crunch crisis

But we couldn’t have a 2009 shortlist without a helping of financial crisis deals. Hence the inclusion of Freshfields, which advised the directors of Northern Rock on the bank’s difficulties, and the Bank of England on all credit crisis-related issues.

More specifically, it is shortlisted for its role advising Nomura on various Lehman Brothers businesses outside the US. Lead ­partners Stephen Revell and Stephen Hewes led a multi-­jurisdictional team that completed the deal in under three weeks against a backdrop of enormous uncertainty.

And last but not least, Slaughter and May makes an appearance with its work for HM Treasury on the bank recapitalisation scheme.

A team led by Nigel Boardman and including Charles Randell, Nilufer von ­Bismarck, Robin Ogle, David Watkins, John Papanichola, Tim Pharoah, Peter Brien and Hywel Davies were ­variously involved on issues of capital underwritten by the ­Treasury: £20bn to Royal Bank of Scotland and £17bn to Lloyds TSB and HBOS, which led to the Government taking stakes in the three entities.

The winners will be announced at The Lawyer Awards, which takes place at the Grosvenor House Hotel on Tuesday 23 June.

Last year was a very different flavour. We were all still saying ‘credit crunch’ instead of ‘recession’, and the winner in the corporate category was Linklaters for its work on a deal that, even last June, seemed as if it belonged to another era. The deal was RBS’s acquisition of ABN Amro, led by partner Matthew Middleditch. Last summer RBS was already under pressure in the wake of that deal, but the judges awarded ­Linklaters first prize in recognition of the ­enormous legal and regulatory complexity of the deal.

Second place last year went to Lovells, whose team – led by Charles Rix – won plaudits for the complicated transfer of Equitable Life’s with-profits annuity business to Prudential.

And coming in third was Herbert Smith; partners James Palmer and Malcolm Lombers advised Resolution on its proposed merger with Friends Provident, where bid produced counter-bid Resolution was eventually taken over by rival Pearl.

Also shortlisted in 2008: Allen & Overy, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Weil Gotshal & Manges.