Real estate roundup

Review of the year

Camerons on property defensive as Vivian quits
In a move that shook the market, CMS Cameron McKenna lost highly-rated and longstanding property partner Jon Vivian to SJ Berwin after he tendered his resignation in February. The move was believed to be prompted by a de-emphasis on property, which the firm denied. Vivian was put on gardening leave and banned from speaking to clients. He finally joined SJ Berwin in July and continued to act for key clients such as Brixton Estates, the Crown Estate, ProLogis Developments and Prestbury (12 February).

CC proves its value to Rotch
Clifford Chance won a much-coveted place on the new panel of property giant Rotch Group in July, after overturning concerns that the firm would not be cost effective. It joined Ashurst Morris Crisp and Slaughter and May as a ‘level one’ adviser on the panel, set up by group counsel Meena Heath. Macfarlanes and Osborne Clarke were appointed as medium-sized advisers, while Memery Crystal, Salans Hertzfeld & Heilbronn and Julian Holy made up its team of niche advisers. Longstanding adviser Bird & Bird was among those to lose out (30 July).

CGNU slashes legal panel to four firms
CGNU dramatically overhauled its property investment panel, slashing it from 16 firms to four, and dropping Clifford Chance in the process. The winning firms were Berwin Leighton Paisner, Hammond Suddards Edge, Nabarro Nathanson and Penningtons. Seven shortlisted firms were invited to compete for the four places at the end of last year. Despite a long history of doing CGNU property work, Clifford Chance did not make it through (19 March).

“What we’ve tended to find is that for medium to high-level work there’s a preparedness to instruct lawyers who have performed well in other regions. There’s a move to being less directly geographically-based”
Nigel Johnson, legal director, British Waterways

Paul Hastings attacks UK property with partner hire
Nabarro Nathanson lost Nigel Heilpern, one of its best-known property finance partners, to Paul Hastings Janofsky & Walker in the autumn as the US firm ramped up its London real estate practice (20 August). Heilpern co-led the Nabarros team advising Mapeley, which won the high-profile bid to run the Inland Revenue and HM Customs & Excise property portfolio. Nabarros has since lost Mapeley as a client following a row over fees (10 September).

Berwin Leighton and Paisners merge after pay compromise
Leading City property firm Berwin Leighton voted to tie the knot with Paisner & Co in March, after formulating a compromise solution to the firms’ disparate profit distribution methods. The merger was corporate driven, but created a combined property department of 160 fee-earners compared with 150 in corporate (2 March).

Osborne Clarke and McGuinness merge
Osborne Clarke launched an attack on the London property market by merging with niche West End property firm McGuinness Finch (14 May). Four property partners, two planning partners and one property litigation partner joined Osborne Clarke in June, following several months of discussions. The move followed the acquisition by Finers Stephens Innocent of niche retail practice Nathan Silman (2 April). Richards Butler also jumped on the bandwagon by swallowing up Higby Hargreaves (11 June).

Top three real estate deals for 2001

1. Linklaters and Eversheds exchanged contracts on the sale of Mayfair’s famous Berkeley Square Estate in June for an estimated £325m just five days after the original buyer pulled out of the deal (18 June).

Eversheds property partner Richard Stephens acted for the purchaser, who was understood to be Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, president of the United Arab Emirates and head of the Abu Dhabi royal family. Sheikh Zayed stepped in when the Saudi royal family pulled out of the deal at the end of May.

Alexandra Marks at Linklaters acted for the vendor, the BP Pension Fund, and helped to introduce a raft of innovations to deliver a fast sale. Assisted by Martyn Davies, Marks began preparing documentation for the sale some time before the portfolio was marketed, effectively taking on the role and the risk of the eventual purchaser’s lawyers.

The transaction was Linklaters’ first major portfolio sale to use a pass-worded website for bidders as an alternative to a conventional data room.

2. Clifford Chance and CMS Cameron McKenna advised Nomura International’s Principal Finance Group on its acquisition of Meridien Hotels for £1.9bn from Compass Group (4 June). The deal was closed in just 21 days, after Nomura was announced as the preferred bidder.

Corporate partner Richard Price – Camerons’ relationship partner for Nomura – led a team of more than 80 lawyers in the UK and also brought in lawyers from the CMS network and associated firms to handle the acquisition of 150 hotels in more than 55 countries.

The team also worked with former Camerons property partners Arthur Dyson and Robert Porter, who joined Clifford Chance last year. Dyson, a property finance specialist, led the Clifford Chance team that was instructed to advise on the financing of the acquisition.

Dyson worked with Porter on the £1.25bn sale-and-leaseback with the Royal Bank of Scotland, advised by Simon Kildahl at Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP). A separate BLP team, led by former Paisner partners David Levy and Rachel Philips, worked with James Davis at Freshfield Bruckhaus Deringer, which advised Compass on the sale.

3. Burges Salmon advised mobile phone company Orange on the relocation of its corporate headquarters to Paddington Basin, the first pre-let at the West London development (5 March). Ashurst Morris Crisp is advising the Paddington Development Corporation, a joint venture between its long-standing client Chelsfield and private investors.

Burges Salmon’s role in the deal strengthened further its relationship with the company. It has worked with Orange on the majority of its principal site acquisitions in England and Wales since the beginning of the 1990s. The relationship has continued despite a number of changes of ownership in that time, and has also crossed over from property and planning into corporate.

The team acting on the Paddington Basin transaction was led by head of property David Gidney, who joined the firm from City-based Rowe & Maw three years ago. The Ashursts team was led by Martin Wright.