Sinclair Roche & Temperley and SJ Berwin & Co have emerged as front-runners to pick up the legal work for luxury West End store Liberty if their clients, two rebel shareholders, succeed in forcing their way on to the board.
And their way would be made clear for them by the departure of Slaughter and May which, along with other key advisers to Liberty, has told shareholders it will resign its role if the rebels win the battle for control.
Sinclair Roche and SJ Berwin are advising, respectively, the South African maverick investor Brian Myerson and Elizabeth Stewart-Liberty, who to gether hold 44 per cent of the company.
The pair want to oust Liberty chairman Denis Cassidy and gain control of the six-member board because of concerns over Liberty's financial performance.
They have requisitioned an extraordinary general meeting for 11 December, where shareholders will vote on their proposals. Liberty heightened the drama further by putting itself up for sale last week.
Sinclair Roche's Richard Thomas, one of several partners acting for Myerson and his offshore-based shares acquisition vehicle Concerto Capital Corporation, admitted the prospect of Liberty's legal work was an “attractive proposition”. But he said his firm had no specific agreement to acquire it, and did not want to face any “conflict of interest”.
Sinclair Roche has long acted for Myerson and his partner Julian Treger. Through their UK Active Value fund, Myerson and Treger have led a number of well-publicised takeover bids by investors of struggling companies, boosting their share values.
Liberty took on Slaughter and May as company solicitors five years ago when Myerson began building up his stake through Concerto, which is registered in the British Virgin Islands. However, a Liberty circular to shareholders has said Slaughters, together with stockbroker Cazenove & Co, merchant bank Barings and public relations firm Shandwick, will resign if the company fails to prevent the rebel takeover.
City sources suggest that the firms do not like Myerson's buccaneering style, and would regard his business approach as too great a risk to their blue-blood reputations.
Last year, Sinclair Roche advised UK Active Value in the bitter shareholder battle over property company Greycoat, which resulted in a failed bid by another property business, Moorfield Estates.