Awards preview: global law firm of the year

On 22 June, 1400 people will crowd into the Grosvenor House Hotel on Park Lane for the most eagerly-awaited event of the year. With only one week to go, The Lawyer brings you a sneak preview of the shortlisted individuals and teams


For Linklaters, the past 12 months saw a number of global building blocks finally slot into place. While the firm’s leadership took a tough stance on costs, there was compelling evidence of cohesion within its Continental European operation. Germany benefited from the firm’s long-time relationship with BP while landing the chunky £1.1bn restructuring of EDS. Savvy practice management meant that Linklaters sustained a leading position in corporate, with finance getting better and better. But it was capital markets that drove forward Linklaters’ more innovative ambitions. Central and Eastern Europe performed well, but China excelled, giving other firms a run for their money. Most tellingly, Linklaters took sensible steps in sorting out the US, through some eye-catching hires in New York.

Mayer Brown Rowe & Maw

A US-UK merged firm with barely any cultural conflicts? It sounds impossible, but Mayer Brown Rowe & Maw seems to have pulled it off. The US is happy to leave London as an autonomous unit when it comes to operational issues such as billing targets and hourly rates. Meanwhile, the system of separate but shadowing US-UK profit pools – set for integration by January next year – has allowed considerable flexibility. As a result, the firm has escaped the internal wranglings that have bedevilled some of its merged competitors. 2003 saw a real push on transatlantic cross-selling, with massive benefits for
the UK corporate practice, while globally the firm had a strong 2003, with global revenues up 10 per cent.

Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom

Skadden continually ranks among the very top corporate firms in the world, more often than not outstripping rivals by its sheer volume of deals. This is no mean feat in a tough market, but Skadden has managed to keep the momentum going throughout its huge practice, not just its New York hub. A tasty slice of West Coast work materialised, working for Yahoo! on its $575m (£313.9m) purchase of France’s Kelkoo. Throughout Europe, too, the firm made the headlines, not least for its work for Chelsea FC on behalf of owner Roman Abramovich.

Shearman & Sterling

Shearman & Sterling, led by London managing partner Kenneth MacRitchie, proved this year that it refuses to compromise on quality. Germany remains a success story that any firm should measure itself against. London shone over the past 12 months, and not only in terms of billings increases. The calibre of deals, key hires and the spread of work throughout competition, corporate, projects and finance all impressed. Paris and London helped France Telecom take full control of Orange; GE’s acquisition of Instrumentarium went through and, along the way, corporate rainmaker Peter King joined. The West Coast also benefited from Shearman’s recruiting prowess, while South America gained the firm’s touch when it opened an office in São Paolo.

Sullivan & Cromwell

There is no doubt over the ever-present quality of Sullivan & Cromwell’s European practice, led in London by William Plapinger. Its stellar European institutional client base has seen it hog the top of the M&A tables for years, and 2003 was no exception. It worked on the Aventis defence, the Interbrew-Ambev merger, various mega-deals for France Telecom and had roles on the Carlton-Granada and Six Continents deals. However, 2003 was also characterised by a certain strategic innovation. This included linking up with the Netherlands’ De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek to win panel work for ING, and an active targeting of private equity work in Europe via a newly-formed transatlantic team.

Weil Gotshal & Manges

Ever-increasing profits and turnover is just one reason why Weil Gotshal remains at the top of its game. In each of its jurisdictions, the firm has excelled over the past year, particularly in Europe, which now houses 25 per cent of the firm’s total lawyers. Here the firm bedded down its strategically canny merger with elite French corporate boutique Serra Leavy & Cazals while opening a second office in Germany. All this has been achieved without incurring debt and increasing average profits by 15.5 per cent. The firm’s market-leading position in bankruptcy and restructuring, which landed the massive Enron, WorldCom and Global Crossing deals, stood it in good stead for winning Parmalat-related work in the US and Europe, while private equity and M&A is also rock solid.