Countrywide sale proves big draw for big firms

The negotiations over the fate of debt-ridden estate agent Countrywide have pulled in a dizzying array of legal advisers.

The big roles went to Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters and Slaughter and May on a deal that is likely to see control of the company pass to a group of private equity investors that have injected capital in return for equity.

However, there were also places for Ashurst, Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz, White & Case and even plucky Halliwells.

Slaughters is effectively ­advising the company through its holding company Castle Holdco. The firm was instructed because of its work on the takeover of Countrywide by US private equity group Apollo for £1bn in 2007.

Slaughters partners Gavin Brown and Charles Randell acted for Apollo on that deal opposite Ashurst for the company. This time Ashurst is acting for Countrywide’s executive ­management.

Apollo, which owns Countrywide, turned to Freshfields partner Don Guiney for the latest deal, as well as regular US adviser Wachtell.

Linklaters’ private equity practice will have been delighted to have received an instruction from Oaktree Capital, which looks likely to emerge in control of Countrywide.

The US buyout group had ­previously ;been ;building ;a ­relationship with Macfarlanes, which had worked on a series of investments, including the $575m (£311m) acquisition of Sara Lee Corporation in 2006. The team was led by now senior partner Charles Martin.

The Countywide negotiations were sufficiently complex to require three Linklaters partners: Yushan Ng in banking, Richard Youle in private equity and capital markets partner Alexander Naidenov.

Meanwhile, Halliwells won an unexpected instruction from the directors of Castle Holdco and White & Case is advising a group of bondholders unhappy with the deal.

The group, which is owed £470m, is threatening to block the debt-for-equity swap, so the legal wrangling is likely to continue until all the lawyers can agree a deal.