International report: Nomos

Firm name:

Offices: Paris
Partners: Nine
Total lawyers: 35
Turnover for 2004: €9m (£6.1m)
Key clients: Axa, Bertelsmann, EMI
Key practice areas: Corporate, private equity, media, technology, IP and competition

The partners at French independent firm Nomos are a farsighted bunch. In the late 1990s they were part of Thomas & Associés, a firm which had merged with accountants Deloitte & Touche. But a group of lawyers saw that the love affair between accountants and law firms would not last, and in 1998 six partners split away to form Nomos.

In the intervening seven years the firm has become a small corporate and media practice with 35 lawyers, including nine partners, all of whom are based in Paris. Unusually for a French firm, there is no managing partner.

“None of our partners wish to withdraw from day-to-day relations with the clients,” explains partner Eric Lauvaux. “We all wish to devote not more than 10 per cent of our time to administrative duties.”

Another unusual aspect to the way Nomos works is that it operates as the French equivalent of a limited-liability partnership – a Société d’Exercice Libéral à Responsabilité Limitée, or SELARL. This means the firm’s accounts are audited annually. In 2004 Nomos brought in more than €9m (£6.1m), and it expects turnover to be around the €10m (£6.8m) mark by the end of this year.

Work is divided into three principal areas: consumer goods, media and entertainment and private equity. The vast majority of Nomos’s work comes under one of these practice groups.

“Our clients are mainly French subsidiaries of foreign groups,” says Lauvaux. That means Nomos has some big names on its roster – companies such as Axa, Bertelsmann, EMI, Lagardère and Masterfoods. Recently the firm acted for Bertelsmann on its merger with Sony, which created the Sony BMG group in France. In the media field, around half of its work is contentious.

Since its foundation, Nomos has not grown a great deal and last year suffered the loss of two private equity partners, including Monique Sentilles-Dupont to Lovells.

However, Lauvaux is optimistic for the future of private equity. “The practice is developing quite well this year,” he says. “We’re planning to hire new partners.”

Drastic growth is, however, not on the cards. Lauvaux believes an optimum size for the firm would be around 50 or 60 lawyers and says Nomos needs to remain close to its clients in order to provide the best service. However, he does not rule out developing some sort of international network to achieve that.

“The competition will become harder in Paris and we don’t exclude international relationships,” he says. “We think that we’re able to develop the firm to a certain level, but growing proportionately to our clients may need international support.”