Nabarros property team pins revival hopes on James George

Nabarros property team pins revival hopes on James George” />Given the state of my post-Christmas finances, I’m kicking myself that I didn’t run a book on James George’s first job after Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer. When George left the magic circle firm in November 2002, few lawyers in the City would have put money on him gracing the offices of Nabarro Nathanson in January 2004. But while it might be a missed opportunity for me, Nabarros can pat itself on the back that this is a great opportunity it has held on to.

Talk to any real estate lawyer and they’ll tell you George is an excellent lawyer and well liked in the industry – although at times he can be “something of a maverick”, as one lawyer comments. His name is synonymous with Trillium, as it was he who secured the massive outsourcing deals for Freshfields, as well as advising a number of other heavyweight corporates during his 14 years at the magic circle firm.

His presence will undoubtedly cement Nabarros’ relationship with Trillium (word has it that the firm already has an instruction from the client outside of its normal realm). But he will also be key in ensuring the firm wins new business as well as maximising its relationships with current clients. He also adds very necessary weight to the corporate side of the real estate department.

But there’s one other thing that the hire of George does for Nabarros – it raises its profile. This is crucial, because the public perception is undoubtedly that in the last five years the firm has gone from being the country’s stellar real estate practice to very much a mid-market player.

Some critics argue that the firm’s fall from grace was sparked by its attempt to minimise its best asset – the property team – in a bid to enhance others. Conversely, others argue that the firm can’t win the big-ticket work because it doesn’t have the corporate, finance and tax capabilities. Partners at Nabarros must sometimes feel like they just can’t win. Indeed, it’s something of a conundrum – but both criticisms are to an extent true.

These days, with property deals becoming ever more corporatised, it’s the property players, such as Nabarros, that need to convince their clients that they have the expertise not just in real estate, but in other practice areas too.

This is one area where George will certainly bolster Nabarros’ position. Although he is the first to claim he’s a real estate and not a corporate man, his experience at Freshfields means he comes with a wealth of corporate knowledge. He also has some useful ties at the investment banks. In fact, it was his links at Goldman Sachs that really cemented his relationship with Land Securities, because the investment bank was the former owner of the real estate vehicle.

But for Nabarros to regain its former glory, it’s got a hard job ahead.
In terms of numbers, last year wasn’t the firm’s best, with turnover in pure property down 8 per cent to £27m. Mind you, it’s worth noting that this figure includes only pure property work – if you add on property litigation, property finance, planning and construction, that figure rises by another £7m, bringing it much closer to its nearest competitor, Berwin Leighton Paisner.

That said, this financial year the firm looks set to fare a lot better.
It’s already up on last year’s figures thanks to a few big deals which came its way (see below), and although it’s led out of the corporate department, the real estate team will also trouser a fairly hefty pay packet from the Pubmaster deal. Nabarros also has a client list that any property firm would give its eye teeth for.
Alongside key clients Land Securities, Morley and Hammerson, there are a host of other big names which are opportunities just waiting to happen. What the firm must do now is convince its clients that it can do more than just your standard conveyancing.

And then there’s also that touchy topic of leadership. I say touchy, because if you mention it to any of the Nabarros partners they’ll snap that it isn’t a problem. Since David Wright has now become a consultant, Kevin Stimpson has taken over the day-to-day running of the department, with Graham Lust and Nick Collins also working closely alongside. There’s certainly been no suggestion that George will be doing any management. Strategy decisions are, apparently, made jointly by the property partners. Yes, Nabarros is going to show significant growth in its figures next year. But what it really needs now is someone to take the helm, whip the team into shape and maximise opportunity with the clients. The people are in place. But who’s the boss?

Nabarros’ key real estate deals in 2003
The department acted on an aggregate value of approximately £13.2bn worth of real estate-related transactions during the year (this includes cross-departmental transactions). Key deals included:
  • Acting on behalf of Israeli real estate investors led by Igal Ahouvi in the acquisition of a portfolio of car parks from Royal Bank of Scotland for an aggregate consideration of around £600m.
  • Acting on behalf of the Bristol Alliance for the regeneration of Bristol’s city centre in Broadmead, with a value of £500m.
  • Acting on behalf of Morley Fund Management in the formation of a new limited partnership to own the European assets of the Global Switch portfolio in a cross-border investment deal in five jurisdictions. The value of the deal was £366m.
  • Acting on behalf of GE Real Estate in the formation of a joint venture partnership with Haslemere NV, with a value of £230m.
  • Acting on behalf of a range of German fund clients in investments across the UK totalling around £1bn during the course of 2003, including the £215m purchase of Tower Place.
  • Acting on behalf of The Priory on the property aspects of the Royal Bank of Scotland Financial Markets’ £215m whole business securitisation of the Priory Group.
  • Acting on behalf of Hammerson in the disposal of two office properties, Globe House, WC2, and 16 Old Bailey, EC4, to CGI, with a value of £192m.