MIPIM 2008 highlights

Last week the real estate industry hit Cannes for its annual knees-up, Mipim. Our reporter Luke McLeod-Roberts was one of the 25,000 delegates. Here are the highlights of his blog, on www.thelawyer.com.

The pinstriped circus

The plane to Nice is delayed and as we take off the pilot announces turbulent conditions ahead. Mmm, how apt, I think. But the mood among the lawyers, as well as the architects, engineers, developers, investors, marketing consultants and journalists – the pinstriped circus that relies to differing extents on this turbulent market for its livelihood – is relatively upbeat. Even if there’s part of me that wonders if it’s a bit like the band playing on the Titanic…Emerging markets, sovereign wealth – these are the buzzwords of the year. I speak with an architect to my left who talks of looking to the Gulf as a potential market for distribution centres as the UK dries up. His company is hosting a party at one of those sumptuous villas overlooking the bay. Apparently EMW Law will be in attendance. As we are airborne he turns to his companion and asks: “What does Mipim actually stand for?”Good question.

“Credit crunch? What credit crunch?” these people ask as they cruise the Croisette.

Outside the Martinez Bar, the central hub of this networking jamboree, a Herbert Smith partner is acutely aware who he needs to be courting.

“This year it’s all about the international clients, Russia, Dubai,” he says. “We’re working extremely hard and are very focused.”

I wish everyone shared this man’s diligence. Inside the Martinez the scene is rather different. A figure bumps into me and sways from side to side, another stands red-faced, propped up by a colleague who simultaneously tries to hail a taxi. And it’s only Tuesday.

Posted: 12 March 2008 @ 10.50am

Freshfields’ Groundhog Day and Dentons’ departure

Freshfields ;Bruckhaus Deringer is staying at a villa in town but entertaining clients on a yacht moored a few spaces away from Lovells’ at the start of the marina.

There are some huge boats doing their turns on the harbour, but Freshfields prefers to stay in port – clients start to get itchy feet if they feel they can’t escape, says partner Jeffrey Rubinoff. And anyway, its not about the size, but knowing where best to put it, he says, adding that being close to the entrance of the marina gives the firm better visibility.

Rubinoff is on his third or fourth Mipim. He believes that, although client meetings are useful, after a while they merge into one. “This year I took the same flight with the same people and was picked up in a taxi at the same time. We’re even using the same boat,” he says. “It’s starting to feel like Groundhog Day.”

Some are starting to be more strategic about how they play their cards. Denton Wilde Sapte commercial real estate partner Roland Gray, who hosted my table at his firm’s Carlton hotel lunch, is among the half of his firm’s Mipim contingent that are on a flying visit – literally. Gray flew in this morning for the lunch and will just have time to slot in a quick meeting before he heads home this afternoon. “Clients know who they want to advise them, they’re not going to change that over a glass of wine,” he tells me. “It’s about putting in a presence.”

Last year Gray was here for the full four-day slog. Is this a cost-cutting measure? Dentons’ answer to the Clifford Chance taxi fiasco? Mipim is a costly affair, he admits, but the consensus at the table is that unless you’re focused solely on domestic investment work, which Dentons isn’t and few firms are, then you will not be taking such a hard hit from the credit crunch.

And anyway, he’ll be back in October for Mipim’s sister event, Mapic. Same organisers, same location, more or less the same people. These people are on to something.

Posted: 12 March 2008 @ 3.30pm

Will the real Tim Jones please stand up

This year marks a first for Field Fisher Waterhouse (FFW). It’s the first time, after stealing lawyers from its former best friend firms in Belgium and Germany, that the firm has representatives at Mipim from its newly consolidated international presence. Like many other firms, the London-based practice is courting foreign capital. But not Russian, not Middle Eastern – Danish.

“We’re possibly the firm with the largest amount of Danish funds clients, many of them involved in buying up healthcare assets,” says partner John Nelmes. I ask if this forms part of an overall hedging strategy. “No, it’s more luck,” partner Edward Bannister tells me.

Even in the UK, FFW is still relatively busy, its delegation tells me. Not like those magic circle firms that rely on corporate and M&A work, partner Anthony Phillips says. He believes the magic circle firms are unwittingly digging their own graves by sidelining a full-service real estate practice.

That ;doesn’t ;include Freshfields, though. The firm is so keen to show that real estate is a valued part of its identity that it has brought along London managing partner Tim Jones to schmooze. At least I think that’s what it’s done. The man who claims to be the aforementioned Freshfields corporate lawyer that I meet later on at their soiree is actually wearing one of those big fat passes that you don’t want to lose with the words: Tim Jones, Credit Suisse printed underneath.

“There’s so many Tim Joneses around,” he confesses. “They just gave me the first one they could find.”

He’s even sporting a mugshot belonging to someone else, a point which doesn’t faze him. “It doesn’t matter, we’re all white, middle-aged men anyway,” he quips.

Posted: 13 March 2008 @ 9.00am

About last night…

There are two camps of law firms at Mipim. Those who entertain their clients (and hangers-on) with lavish, themed cocktail parties, and those who whisk a select few away for intimate meetings in semi-secret locations, usually in the mountains or villages along the coast.

In terms of visibility you can’t get much more in-yer-face than DLA Piper. The law firm is the only one I know that has a branded pavilion permanently placed along the promenade.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re passing at 2am or 2pm, there is guaranteed to be deep house music pumping out and David Taylor and a bunch of the partners getting on down.

The firm hosted cocktail parties on three consecutive nights, plus a late-night party. “You have to make use of the capacity,” partner Richard Crossfield said rather sheepishly.

The exposure inevitably elicits derision from some of the other firms – especially the tent’s location next to a carousel. “DLA are part of the fairground!” scoffed one.

Ashurst had been due to occupy the Carlton International Hotel – a venue dripping in gold and marble – but the firm had to eat humble pie when a delegation from the Krasnodar region of Russia offered a higher price, jettisoning the law firm into a marquee on the beach below.

Spanish head of real estate Cristina Calvo claims the venue’s unpretentious, relaxed atmosphere is more in-line with the firm’s culture.

But to Eversheds, such parties are not worth the money. The firm’s strategy was to get its choicest clients, stick them in a bus and drive them as far out of Cannes as possible – so there wouldn’t be a hope in hell of finding a taxi back, should they wish to – and forcing them to talk business all evening.

“It’s not about champagne and names on lists,” said head of regeneration Stephen Sorrell.

“We’ve got serious Kazakh clients here! These people are the top geezers – the best of the best!” exclaimed Tim Webb in his usual laconic tone.

Posted: 14 March 2008 @ 11.10am