Hunter-Appleby Spurling merger spells change for offshore market

Caribbean firms Hunter & Hunter and Appleby Spurling & Kempe are set to merge in a deal that will reshape the offshore legal market.

As first revealed on (14 January), the combined firm, to be named Appleby Spurling Hunter, will house 100 lawyers and will be spread across five key jurisdictions: Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Hong Kong and London.

Both firms voted unanimously in favour of the merger last December. The merger will go live on 1 April.

Hunter, which boasts 30 lawyers, acted for Enron when it set up a number of the bankrupt energy trader’s Cayman-based holding companies. The firm has offices in the Caymans and London.

Appleby Spurling, home to 70 lawyers, was a key player in the infamous Thyssen litigation, and includes Southern Cross and Global Crossing among its clients.

The merger is the second to hit the offshore market this year, after Jersey firm Ogier & Le Masurier announced it is to link up with Caymans firm Boxalls in February.

The battle for the biggest slice of global offshore work is starting to look like an arms race, exemplified by the Appleby Spurling & Kempe-Hunter & Hunter tie-up.

When Hunter set up a London office in September 2001, it was a major event; now such a move is commonplace, particularly among offshore firms servicing clients in different timezones. Hunter, in terms of size and reputation, is generally regarded as number three in the Caymans after Maples & Calder and Walkers. The fourth firm in the Cayman pecking order is generally perceived to be Boxalls. In December, Boxalls agreed to merge with Channel Islands practice Ogier & Le Masurier. Just as the ink dried on that agreement, Hunter agreed to merge with Appleby Spurling, to create one of the world’s largest offshore firms. Now we should expect seismic moves from Maples or Walkers, or both.

Appleby Spurling is generally regarded as the number one Bermudian firm, but Conyers Dill & Pearman is a threat. Both firms have a string of overseas offices and associations: Conyers in Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, Caymans, Guernsey, Hong Kong, London and Singapore; Appleby Spurling in the British Virgin Islands, Hong Kong, the Isle of Man and London. So, Appleby Spurling merges with ambitious, medium-sized Hunter across the water. And Conyers?… you get the picture.

Strategically, the tie-up is clever for both firms. The merged firm is a truly global firm, and other firms must now play catch-up. Inevitably they will. Such mergers have lower overhead costs than City firm mergers because they are not sharing office space, and claiming the mantle of being the global offshore firm is attractive to City solicitors and accountants as well as lay clients looking for a full service in different jurisdictions. The world is Appleby Spurling Kempe’s oyster, but not for long.