Offshore cracks open the door

The reluctance of offshore law firms to open up their books is the stuff of legend.

But while firms in most other markets, even the notoriously tight-lipped Dublin, have begun to provide an insight into their financial figures, the same cannot be said for the offshore legal market. Even digging out statistics on partner numbers at some firms can prove a headache. This makes for an interesting predicament as offshore firms grapple to improve further their reputation as transparent and legitimate operations.

For this inaugural Offshore Survey The Lawyer quizzed around 100 firms across all of the offshore jurisdictions on their financial performances, partnerships and practices. Of the almost 40 firms that responded, only five provided turnover.

The Jersey-headquartered Mourant du Feu & Jeune was the most notable player to break this pact of silence, revelling in a 17 per cent increase in fee income in the past year to report an annual turnover for 2005 of £23m.

The Cayman Islands’ Stuarts Walker Hersant should also be applauded for its willingness to go on the public record with a turnover of $4m (£2.3m). Not bad for a firm with only 20 staff, including four partners – although this unfortunately means that the firm falls short of The Lawyer’s rankings for the top 20 offshore law firms based on number of partners.

Guernsey-based AO Hall similarly misses out on a place in the rankings. With just two partners, the firm is anticipating a turnover for 2006 of £900,000. Founded by two former partners of Carey Olsen, the firm extols an impressive client list, including Credit Suisse (Guernsey).

At the opposite end of the scale are those firms that declined to participate in the survey (most notably Jersey-based Sinels) and those that failed to respond altogether. Curiously, this latter group included the Bermuda-based Cox Hallett Wilkinson and Gibraltar’s Marrache & Co, which only weeks before had been trying to drum up publicity for its new office in Prague in the Czech Republic, which was launched in October.

Isle of Man firm Cains is also notably missing from the rankings, but not for its lack of response. Unfortunately, the firm falls just shy of the rankings with six partners and a total of 71 staff, despite boasting an impressive client list, which includes Barclays, HSBC and Cathay Pacific.

Based on number of partners, the Cayman-headquartered Maples and Calder takes the top ranking with 46 partners, followed by Swiss firm Lenz & Staehelin with 37 partners.

These are followed by a slew of firms with similar-sized partnerships. Cayman-based Ogier, Bermuda’s Appleby Spurling Hunter and Conyers Dill & Pearman, Channel Islands-based Carey Olsen and Swiss firm Homburger all have either 29 or 28 partners.

But it would a different story if the rankings were based on total staff figures instead. Ogier takes over at the top of the table with 479 staff, pushing Maples down a place with 450 staff. Appleby would remain in third position with 430 staff, fractionally ahead of Conyers with 428.

1 Maples and Calder

Partners: 46
Full equity partners: n/a Female partners: 7
Full equity female partners: n/a
Qualified lawyers: 140
Fee-earners: 140
Staff: 450

Cayman-headquartered firm Maples and Calder made a splash at the end of 2005 when it announced a tie-up with Irish law firm Binchys. The absorption of Binchys’ six-partner Dublin operation gives Maples a key foothold in the Dublin funds market and its sixth office. The Ireland project was one of the many international developments initiated by managing partner Adrian Pope over the last year. In June the firm launched in Dubai, while a few months earlier it set up a South American practice led by partner Simon Firth. Maples also doubled the size of its Hong Kong office in March 2005 with a number of hires.

2 Lenz & Staehelin

Partners: 37
Full equity partners: 37
Female partners: 2
Full equity female partners: 2
Qualified lawyers: 122
Fee-earners: 150
Staff: 295

Lenz & Staehelin’s position as the largest law firm in Switzerland makes it well placed to defend its territory from the international rivals moving onto its turf, such as Bedell Cristin. Managing partner Benoit Chappuis oversees four offices based in Geneva, Zurich, Lausanne and Fribourg covering the main commercial, financial and linguistic regions of the country. The firm’s key practice areas are corporate banking and finance, as well as litigation, but it also offers advice in the real estate, private client and technology sectors.

3 Ogier

Partners: 29
Full equity partners: 29
Female partners: 2
Full equity female partners: 2
Qualified lawyers: 121
Fee-earners: 220
Staff: 479

Cayman-based Ogier underwent a period of consolidation in late 2005 following the international mergers and expansion that have characterised the firm over the last few years. This was formalised in November 2005 when the firm announced that all of its operations would carry on under the single Ogier brand. Chairman Jonathan White claims that the firm has no immediate plans to move into new jurisdictions, but Ogier is in the process of expanding its London and Guernsey presences, both of which are moving to bigger premises. Last year the firm poached Gray Smith from Maples and Calder to lead its London operation. Ogier’s corporate group has capitalised on the desire for London listings, including advising Petrofac on a $1.3bn (£738.4m) IPO in 2005, while HSBC, Morgan Stanley and UBS feature among its client list.

=4 Appleby Spurling Hunter

Partners: 28
Full equity partners: N/A
Female partners: 6
Full equity female partners: N/A
Qualified lawyers: 92
Fee-earners: 92
Staff: 430

For Appleby Spurling Hunter, 2005 was a year dictated by a slew of senior partner moves. Managing partner Peter Bubenzer was probably the only senior lawyer at the Bermuda-headquartered firm who did not switch roles. Shaun Morris became managing partner of the Bermuda office and Judith Collis was installed as the new head of corporate. Meanwhile, the firm brought in Randall Krebs from a boutique firm in Canada to head its trust team. The firm was also busy hiring at the associate level for its five offices in Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, London and Hong Kong. Deal highlights included advising the underwriters on the $855m (£485.4m) IPO of asset management company Lazard. Appleby counts Alea Group Holdings, Aspen Group Holdings, DLJ Merchant Banking, New Skies Satellites, Videsh Sanchar Nigam, Real Re and Swiss Re among its clients.

=4 Carey Olsen

Partners: 28
Full equity partners: 17
Female partners: 5
Full equity female partners: 1
Qualified lawyers: 117
Fee-earners: 135
Staff: 242

Channel Islands-based firm Carey Olsen took the unusual step last year of shedding its trust administration business to focus soley on providing legal services. The firm sold Quorum Management to Investec Trust in December 2005 in a bid to stop competing with its clients for this type of work and win more business – although with offices in Guernsey, Jersey and London, it is already one of the biggest firms in the sector. Meanwhile, Carey Olsen’s litigation group had mixed fortunes last year. In May its litigation department scored a first by successfully persuading a Guernsey court to put a protected cell company into administration. But it also suffered the departures of two litigation partners in March to set up their own boutique due to conflicts on cases.

=4 Conyers Dill & Pearman

Partners: 28
Full equity partners: N/A
Female partners: 4
Full equity female partners: N/A
Qualified lawyers: 101
Fee-earners: 123
Staff: 428

Conyers Dill & Pearman has enjoyed a busy year across its seven offices. From Hong Kong it advised Anheuser Busch on its hostile takeover of Harbin Breweries and the firm has secured work on 63 per cent of all IPOs in Asia. The firm’s Bermuda headquarters advised on 42 per cent of all new companies incorporated on the island, while in London the firm acquired another floor at its offices in Threadneedle Street, making space for five new lawyers. Conyers also boasts offices in Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands and Singapore. The firm specialises in commercial law, commercial litigation and private client work.

=4 Homburger

Partners: 28
Full equity partners: 26
Female partners: 2
Full equity female partners: 1
Qualified lawyers: 75
Fee-earners: 85
Staff: 185

Having thrown off its ties with an international network and re-established itself as a standalone firm operating in a single location in Zurich in 1991, Homburger has grown from 22 to 85 fee-earners operating in six practice groups. These include corporate, banking and finance, litigation and arbitration, IP/IT and competition law. The firm also boasts one of Switzerland’s leading tax practices, with this having been a focus of the firm’s expansion. The tax department now comprises four partners and 12 associates. Following the success of its independent strategy, managing partner Heinz Schärer is eager for the firm to remain independent. Homburger most notably advised Synthes-Stratec on its £702m acquisition of Mathys Medizinaltechnik.

8 Walkers

Partners: 27
Full equity partners: 10
Female partners: 7
Full equity female partners: 0
Qualified lawyers: 88
Fee-earners: 87
Staff: 260

Cayman-headquartered Walkers is to launch its fifth office later this year, after announcing in November 2005 plans to become the first offshore law firm to open a transactional office in Dubai. This follows a series of adjustments in 2005. The British Virgin Islands (BVI) office saw a change in management in August when Helen de Vries moved from the firm’s Cayman office to take up the office’s managing partner role and Stephen Adams was promoted to the newly created role of BVI senior partner. The firm’s Hong Kong presence was similarly bulked up with the hire of Fortis Prime Fund Solutions Asia general counsel Carol Hall in September. The firm’s client list includes JPMorgan, Carlyle Group and Goldman Sachs.

9 Mourant du Feu & Jeune

Partners: 26
Full equity partners: 25
Female partners: 8
Full equity female partners: 7
Qualified lawyers: 78
Fee-earners: 112
Staff: 163

Mourant du Feu & Jeune is one of the few offshore firms with the confidence to publish its annual turnover, reporting a 17 per cent increase during 2005 to reach £23m. This confidence is reflected in Mourant’s growth strategy, especially as the Jersey-headquartered firm has announced bold plans to launch in Guernsey. The office will open officially in February 2006, adding to Mourant’s operations in Jersey, Cayman and London. Wider expansion across the firm’s network has also increased its number of fee-earners by 27 per cent; this included the hire of partner Rosin Cater for its Cayman-based mutual funds team. The firm’s expansion is set to continue in 2006 with a new, larger office planed for London.

10 Arendt & Medernach

Partners: 24
Full equity partners: 24
Female partners: 6
Full equity female partners: 6
Qualified lawyers: 162
Fee-earners: N/A
Staff: 240

Arendt & Medernach is the largest Luxembourg-based firm, with a legal staff of more than 150. It acts for a number of Luxembourg banks, financial professionals and investment funds, befitting a firm based in the EU’s second-largest financial centre. The firm was formed in 1988 with the merger of Arendt & Harles and Mersch & Medernach. It is highly rated in its practice areas of international banking, corporate, taxation, commercial, finance, litigation and investment management. The firm has offices in Brussels and New York as well as Luxembourg. It also created the first Luxembourg-Ireland alliance with its tie-up with Dublin firm Dillon Eustace, breaking the traditional barriers of fund management rivalry.

11 Hassans

Partners: 23
Full equity partners: 23
Female partners: 3
Full equity female partners: 3
Qualified lawyers: 56
Fee-earners: 55
Staff: 165

Hassans, Gibraltar’s largest firm, boasts a strong international practice with a solid reputation in cross-border transactions, primarily for multinational corporations. With more than 70 years’ experience, the firm specialises in tax advice, litigation, offshore finance and corporate practices, including financial transactions, banking, insurance, property and conveyance advice, offshore trusts and company formations. Hassans’ international capabilities were enhanced in late 2005 with the recruitment of Stephen Forster, a former managing partner of CMS Cameron McKenna’s Hong Kong and Hungary offices. Meanwhile, Hassans managing partner James Levy QC continues a long tradition of having a QC at the helm, starting with the firm’s founder, Sir Joshua Hassan QC, in the 1930s.

12 Elvinger Hoss & Prussen

Partners: 21
Full equity partners: 21
Female partners: 5
Full equity female partners: 5
Qualified lawyers: 50
Fee-earners: N/A
Staff: 100

Elvinger Hoss & Prussen is the leading law firm for Luxembourg-domiciled investment funds, advising on 1,700 funds. The firm specialises in corporate, commercial banking, finance and financial markets, securities and investment work for Luxembourg, representing international clients. Elvinger made international headlines in 2001 when it advised alongside Slaughter and May on a three-way merger to create the world’s largest steel company at the time, with three parties listing over four jurisdictions. Staunchly independent, the firm was founded in 1964 by André Elvinger and Jean Hoss, before Yves Prussen joined in 1975. All three still practise today, although former Slaughters assistant Manou Hoss is the firm’s managing partner.

13 Bailhache Labesse

Partners: 14
Full equity partners: 7
Female partners: 4
Full equity female partners:
Qualified lawyers: 34
Fee-earners: 43
Staff: 125

Jersey-based Bailhache Labesse continues to be a leader in dispute resolution in the offshore world, while it also focuses on commercial and financial services. Litigation partner Michael O’Connell heads the firm’s eight-member management committee, established in 2004 after the former managing partner quit for a career change. O’Connell also continues to practise as a commercial litigator and is head of dispute resolution. The group was expanded with the February 2005 hire of ex-Dechert partner and dispute resolution specialist Michael Cushing, while commercial property head John Bisson remains as senior partner, a role he has held since 2000. Key clients include Barclays Group, Aberdeen Asset Managers, Merrill Lynch, Bank of Scotland, CLS Holdings and Dandara.

=14 Bedell Cristin

Partners: 13
Full equity partners: 13
Female partners: 1
Full equity female partners: 1
Qualified lawyers: 43
Fee-earners: 72
Staff: 179

Bedell Cristin is headquartered in Jersey, but also boasts offices in London, Dublin and Geneva. However, legal services constitute a small part of Bedell’s business, with just 13 partners, while trust administration forms the primary service line. The firm’s legal practice includes banking and corporate capital markets, funds and commercial litigation. Last year, Bedell Trust Company opened an office in London, headed by Geoff Simms. The launch is muscling into territory that until now was the domain of banks by providing asset-backed commercial paper conduit programme administration services.

=14 Dickinson Cruickshank

Partners: 13
Full equity partners: 4
Female partners: 2
Full equity female partners: 1
Qualified lawyers: 35
Fee earners: 50
Staff: 85

Isle of Man-based Dickinson Cruickshank played a leading role in the island’s development of a new company law, which is due to be introduced in 2006. This is indicative of the position the firm holds within the island. Dickinsons specialises in dispute resolution, with managing partner Paul Morris heading that practice area. The firm also has strong commercial law, private client and residential and commercial property practices. Last year it hired Sean Dowling as its finance director and practice manager, the former managing director of the island’s AIB Bank. It also retains former senior partners Martin Moore and Geoff Karran as consultants.

=14 Ozannes

Partners: 13
Full equity partners: 13
Female partners: 1
Full equity female partners: 1
Qualified lawyers: 30
Fee-earners: 40
Staff: 94

Guernsey-based firm Ozannes enjoyed a series of changes during 2005, including the appointment of a managing partner and the launch of a new practice group. Litigation partner Robert Shepherd took up the managing partner role in February, succeeding Peter Harwood. This was quickly followed by the establishment of a dedicated trust practice led by partner St John Robilliard. Ozannes is famed for its strong litigation group, but its practice also includes corporate, private client property and trusts. With 13 partners, the firm is placed just above local rival Collas Day. It acts as regular adviser to Assicurazioni Generali, SJ Berwin, Dickson Minto, Herbert Smith, Insurance Corporation of the Channel Islands and Sarnia Properties, among others.

=17 Collas Day

Partners: 9
Full equity partners: 7
Female partners: 1
Full equity female partners: 1
Qualified lawyers: 19
Fee-earners: 40
Staff: 70

Guernsey-based Collas Day has resisted the lure of becoming a multijurisdictional firm and instead prides itself on its expertise within its local market. Since its merger with Winter Palmer & Denziloe in 2004, the firm has two bases on the Channel Islands, although each firm opted to keep its own identity. The full-service firm recently voted in a new senior partner in the shape of Richard Ogier following the retirement of Peter Atkinson. The firm’s practice features corporate and banking, funds and trusts, while its key clients include ABN Amro, Bank of Butterfield, CI Traders, Ernst & Young, Royal Bank of Scotland International and Swiss Re Group.

=17 Harney Westwood & Riegels

Partners: 9
Full equity partners: 8
Female partners: 1
Full equity female partners: 1
Qualified lawyers: 45
Fee-earners: 50
Staff: 170

British Virgin Islands (BVI) firm Harney Westwood & Riegels took the bold step of opening a Hong Kong office last February, having advised clients there from its home in the BVI for 20 years. The move bolsters the firm’s offices to four, with other presences in Anguilla and London. On the transactional front, the firm continues to be at the forefront of innovation, becoming one of the leading players advising on AIM listings – a relatively new area for the BVI. Harneys notably advised on the offshore aspects of internet-based gambling company Empire Online’s £512m flotation on AIM last June. Other key clients include HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland, Cable & Wireless, First Caribbean International Bank, Bank of Scotland, Delancey Real Estate, GAM, BP and Schlumberger.

=19 Al Tamimi & Company

Partners: 8
Full equity partners: 1
Female partners: 1
Full equity female partners: 0
Qualified lawyers: 75
Fee-earners: 75
Staff: 180

One of the largest local non-affiliated law firms in the United Arab Emirates with offices in the Emirates of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, Al Tamimi & Co embarked on its most aggressive expansion campaign in 2004 when it extended its reach from the UAE with associate offices in Iraq and Qatar. The firm, made up of both local and UK-qualified lawyers, boasts an annual turnover of $10m (£5.7m), generated by its IP, corporate and commercial, banking and finance, maritime, insurance, construction, real estate, litigation, arbitration and alternative dispute resolution practice groups. Key clients include Nokia, Mars, Dubai International Financial Centre, Jebel Ali Port Authority and Nakheel Properties.

=19 Isola & Isola

Partners: 8
Full equity partners: 3
Female partners: 2
Full equity female partners: 0
Qualified lawyers: 19
Fee-earners: 21
Staff: 87

Gibraltar’s oldest law firm Isola & Isola has established relationships with several City practices, including the likes of Ashurst, Allen & Overy and Linklaters. The firm advises clients on corporate, commercial, banking, financial services and regulatory work, as well as insurance, commercial litigation, admiralty shipping, construction, trusts and private client. Isola’s key clients include Coral Eurobet, Mansion, ACE, Willis, Citibank, Credit Suisse, Barclays Bank, the Royal Bank of Scotland, ABN Amro and Deutsche Bank. Isola recently advised on the acquisition of Saga by private equity house Charterhouse thanks to a referral from Dickson Minto. The firm also advised the lenders on the acquisition of Coral Eurobet by Gala. Outside Gibraltar, Isola has a two-lawyer office in Spain.

View table: Top 20 offshore firms based on number of partners