Top of the offs

The aggressive expansionist tone set by the offshore world in 2006 continued with ferocious intensity in 2007. The sector’s ‘magic circle’ firms – Appleby, Maples and Calder, Mourant du Feu & Jeune, Ogier and Walkers – tightened their grip on the sector, shaking off competition from the bottom end of the market.

The Lawyer’s 2007 Offshore Firm of the Year, Ogier, however, took the biggest strides forward, completing a merger with British Virgin Islands-based WSmiths in March to enter Hong Kong, New Zealand and the Uruguayan capital Montevideo.

The deal places Ogier well ahead of Conyers Dill & Pearman and Carey Olsen in the survey for the first time.

With a raft of firms opening new offices in 2007 – Appleby in Mauritius, Ogier in Dubai and Mourant in New York – leading offshore lawyers are anticipating that the first half of 2008 will be comparatively quiet.

Even so, says Appleby global managing partner Peter Bubenzer, frenetic activity will resume in the second half of the year.

Four firms at the bottom of the table have signalled their intention to grow: Harney Westwood & Riegels (number 15), Dickinson Cruickshank (17) and Al Timimi & Company (18) will all look to add new offices in 2008. Meanwhile, Cains (14) will open offices in Singapore in July in an effort to crack the Indian offshore market. It will not be alone.

“The big themes in offshore are reflected in the broader financial markets,” says Mourant chief executive Stephen Ball, who predicts the major firms will move eastwards. “The US banks have received major cash injections from the east this year and you’ll see that in where the firms position themselves.”

Both Appleby and Mourant are considering a Singapore base. Bubenzer says the firm needs to fill the gap between London and Hong Kong.

The past year has given us a glimpse of the consolidation that is expected to grip the sector later this year. Ogier and WSmiths, Mourant and Cayman Islands firm Quin & Hampson have opened the M&A doors.

But it was Walkers’ and Mourant’s merger plans that set the M&A trail alight. Some commentators believed this prompted Maples to announce a best friends agreement with Jersey-based Carey Olsen. Just weeks later, the discussions between Mourant and Walkers collapsed.

Nevertheless, the wheels have been set in motion and firms are beginning to talk about best friend agreements.

Cains managing director Andrew Corlett comments: “We’re beginning to get enquiries about best friend agreements, and you never say never. You have to keep ahead of the strategic direction of the market. We all have to talk about it and analyse where we go from here.”

While Maples and Appleby Global hang on to their places at the top of the survey charts, their grip could be loosening. There will be huge competition for business as onshore firms face the prospect of slowing economies and the flexibility of the offshore world becomes financially attractive.

Whether Maples can stay ahead of the competition for another year remains to be seen. If Appleby is ever going to topple its great rival from its throne, it may be this year.

1: Maples and Calder

Managing partners: Charles Jennings and Julian Reddyhough
Total number of partners: 60
Total number of lawyers: 201
Number of offices: Seven
Locations: British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dubai, Dublin, Hong Kong, Jersey, London
Key practice areas: Corporate, finance, IP, insolvency and corporate restructuring, investment funds, litigation, regulatory and financial services, structured finance, trusts
Key clients: Boundary Capital, Airbus, KPMG, Kroll (Cayman), SABMiller

Cayman-headquartered Maples and Calder finished the year by signing a best friends agreement with Jersey-headquartered Carey Olsen. Under the deal, Maples plans to stop practising Jersey law and refer its Jersey clients to Carey Olsen. Maples’ Jersey office will, however, remain open and continue to advise on Cayman law.

The agreement follows a year of promotions and lateral hires, which kicked off with the appointment of Edward Strickland as global director of recruitment. Strickland has ramped up Maples’ lawyer figures from 135 in January 2007 to 201 as The Lawyer went to press.

The Dublin office has gone through a significant growth period, which began with the hires of structured finance specialist David Maughan from A&L Goodbody and corporate partner Andrew Doyle from Matheson Ormsby Prentice. Two-thirds of the new recruits were appointed to the firm’s Dublin office, which has grown to more than 100 lawyers and nine partners since it opened in 2006.

Managing partner Charles Jennings says of the office: “Growth is now more likely to be organic, as lawyers qualify and are promoted internally, save in exceptional circumstances, such as where top-class recruits become available in the market.”

The firm has also taken steps to recruit barristers, appointing Nigel Meeson QC of Quadrant Chambers to its Cayman office last May. Meeson was joined in July by commercial barrister Jo Cunningham, who left Quadrant at the same time to join Conyers Dill & Pearman as head of litigation.

With a series of new clients, including Airbus and private equity firm Boundary Capital, Maples has capitalised on its 2007 position as leader of the pack and has set the benchmark for others to follow.

Jennings says there are no immediate plans for further expansion. “This year we’ll be consolidating our recent mergers and expansions,” he explains. “Although we never rule out the possibility of expanding still further when an opportunity arises.”

2: Appleby

Managing partner: Peter Bubenzer
Total number of partners: 47
Total number of lawyers: 159
Number of offices: Seven
Locations: Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Hong Kong, Jersey, London, Mauritius
Key practice areas: Corporate and commercial, litigation, insolvency, trusts, property
Key clients: PartnerRe, Tyco, Invesco, Hiscox, Nabors International, Coller International Partners V

Growth of Appleby’s partner base began in 2007 with the lateral hires of two partners – Owen Jones, who went to the Cayman office, and Jeanne Bartlett, who also heads the firm’s structured finance practice. They were the only two laterals of the year.

The opening of a new office in Mauritius, a rebrand in April and the ongoing recruitment of lawyers (up from 138 to 159) have helped to keep Appleby at the top of the food chain.

Structured finance is very much at the heart of Appleby’s growth plans in 2008, with global managing partner Peter Bubenzer promising that there will be growth in two key jurisdictions – Cayman and the British Virgin Islands (BVI).

The firm has spent the past 18 months investing in internal infrastructure and aligning its financial reporting system across its seven global offices. Bubenzer says there is still much work to do, including bringing together a global culture of working.

Meanwhile, there is no shortage of options when it comes to growing the firm. Appleby’s aim is to have a base in every major offshore jurisdiction. The firm is considering opening offices in Singapore – “We’re keeping a watchful eye from our Hong Kong office,” says Bubenzer – and sees potential in Guernsey and the Isle of Man.

3: Walkers

Managing partner: Grant Stein
Total number of partners: 46
Total number of lawyers: 150
Number of offices: Seven
Locations: British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dubai, Hong Kong, Jersey, London, Tokyo
Key practice areas: Asset finance, capital markets, structured finance, hedge funds, private equity
Key clients: Barclays Group, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, UBS
In October 2007 the Cayman-headquartered firm revealed that it was in merger talks with Mourant. Any planned merger would have toppled Maples’ place at the top of the offshore hierarchy.

The Lawyer revealed earlier this month (11 February) that talks had collapsed more than a year into discussions, with both firms opting to concentrate on their own growth.

All talks are now off – for the time being.

Walkers raided Mourant’s Jersey office in April 2007 for two associates to support partner Heather Bestwick. Bestwick was transferred to Jersey to establish an asset finance practice. Mourant associates Michael Johns and James Gaudin joined her.

The move came after a merger with Jersey-based Crills Advocates gave the firm access to the structured finance market in July 2006.

At the beginning of 2008 the firm made its largest round of promotions to date, adding nine associates to the partnership. It also recruited a chief operating officer and group compliance manager.

“All the indications are that 2008 will be another record-breaking year for Walkers, particularly for work in Asia and the Middle East,” says managing partner Grant Stein. “We also expect to see further significant development of Cayman’s hedge and private equity industries and a marked increase in our insolvency and restructuring business.”

4: Ogier

Chairman: Chris Carpenter
Total number of partners:37
Total number of lawyers: 180
Number of offices:10
Locations: British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dubai Guernsey, Jersey, Hong Kong, Ireland, London, Montevideo, New Zealand
Key practice areas: Banking, structured finance, investment funds, corporate and commercial, litigation, employment, employee benefits, property, private clients and trusts, real estate
Key clients: Barclays, Coller Capital, Harbourmaster, HSBC, Royal Bank of Canada, UBS, Banco Pactual

The winner of The Lawyer’s Offshore Firm of the Year accolade, Ogier is the first firm to climb up the offshore survey charts, overtaking Conyers, Carey Olsen, Homburger and Mourant.

It follows a bold year of new office openings, a series of lateral hires and internal promotions, which began with its completed merger with WSmiths (formerly Walker Smiths) in February.

The merger gave the firm three new offices in the Uruguayan capital Montevideo, Hong Kong and New Zealand.

This was followed in March with the opening of a Dubai office and in June the firm expanded its structured finance business into Dublin with the acquisition of Pegasus Corporate Services. With an additional office in the BVI, the firm can boast a truly global presence.

Structured finance partner Roger Le Tissier leads Ogier’s team of advisers to beleaguered bank Northern Rock. The team has been one of Northern Rock’s longstanding advisers on banking and regulatory affairs.

Working with Linklaters, the firm’s Jersey office acted on what is understood to be the first merger between two structured investment vehicles (SIVs), Whistlejacket Capital and White Pine Corporation. The newly merged entity, Whistlejacket Capital, held $18bn (£9.24bn) in assets, which is managed by Standard Chartered Bank.

Two years of successful growth will give Ogier’s rivals some food for thought in 2008.

5: Conyers Dill & Pearman

Chairman: John Collis
Total number of partners: 34
Total number of lawyers: 132
Number of offices: Eight
Locations: Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dubai, Hong Kong, London, Singapore
Key practice areas: Corporate, company and commercial, litigation, restructuring and insolvency, trusts and private client
Key clients: XL, ACE, General Electric, Lukoil, Sinopec

Falling behind Ogier is Conyers, which had a relatively quiet 2007, appointing four partners. The firm opened in Dubai in November 2006, but there were no new offices in 2007.

All that is about to change with the opening of an office in Moscow – the first of the offshore players to make such a move.

“The growth in international trade has spawned potential clients around the world seeking offshore services. Many markets that were once described as ‘emerging’ have now clearly emerged, and their corporations are seeking to do business globally,” Conyers chairman John Collis says.

Meanwhile, the firm is taking steps to align its offices in Bermuda and London in a bid to win new insurance clients, starting with the transfer of associate Anthony Smith to London from Bermuda. With insurance giants such as ACE and XL on its client list, the firm says it is “adding some synergies” between the offices.

Expect to see plenty more growth in the firm’s London office, with additional hires anticipated in 2008.

It would also be logical for Conyers to bolster its Singapore office, with several of the offshore big guns looking to Asia and many of Conyers’ clients having bases in the country.

6: Carey Olsen

Managing partner: Anthony Olsen Total number of partners: 30
Total number of lawyers: 129
Number of offices: Three
Locations: Guernsey, Jersey, London
Key practice areas: Corporate and finance (including Channel Islands banking, corporate transactions, M&A, funds and private equity, real estate finance, structured finance, securitisation), litigation, property, fiduciary (trusts and pensions, private client, wills and probate), regulatory, employment
Key clients: Merrill Lynch, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, Permira, Morgan Stanley, UBS

Carey Olsen remains firmly committed to the Channel Islands in the UK and says this “differentiates the firm from many of its competitors, who offer fiduciary services that often conflict with their clients”.

In March the firm attracted its second magic circle partner with the appointment of Mark Keeler from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s Tokyo office.

Anticipating changes in Jersey’s regulatory structure, the firm created the role of compliance director for Keith Hood last October. Hood joined from Abbey National International in Jersey, where he was risk and compliance manager.

The biggest change, however, came in January 2008, when the firm signed a best friends agreement with offshore giant Maples. The move would allow Maples to effectively withdraw from the island without compromising its client base. Market watchers believe Carey Olsen will benefit most from the association with Maples and predict that the firm will pick up some significant new clients in 2008.

The firm’s commitment to the Channel Islands has not stopped it from pushing forward the growth of its London office. Carey Olsen has moved to new offices in Throgmorton Street and now employs 18 people.

7: Homburger

Managing partner: Heinz Schärer
Total number of partners: 29
Total number of lawyers: 100
Number of offices: One
Key practice areas: Corporate, M&A, financial services, tax, arbitration/litigation, antitrust, IP/IT
Key clients: Credit Suisse, UBS, JPMorgan, Holcim, ABB

Sliding down the table of leading firms is Zurich-headquartered Homburger, which has failed to grow its partner base in the past year. The firm has grown its lawyer base from 81 to 100, but has now fallen behind Carey Olsen with 30 partners to its 29 and 100 lawyers to Carey Olsen’s 129.

Nevertheless, the firm has an impressive client list and has advised on some of Switzerland’s largest deals of 2007. This includes acting for life insurer Swiss Life Holdings in its proposed acquisition of German financial services giant AWD Holdings.

Homburger advised Phonak on its acquisition of fellow hearing aid firm ReSound. It also provided Swiss advice to pharmaceutical company Merck on its purchase of a large stake in biotechnology company Serono.

The firm’s attorneys often work across two practice groups, which the firm says, allows greater coordination between practices.

At the beginning of the year Homburger elected Mariella Orelli as a partner in what is a rare accolade given by the firm.

8: Mourant Du Feu & Jeune

Chief executive: Stephen Ball
Total number of partners:29
Total number of lawyers: 100
Number of offices: Five
Locations: Cayman Islands, Guernsey, Jersey, London, New York
Key practice areas: Business (corporate and commercial law, M&A, employment law and property law), dispute resolution, finance (capital markets, corporate and banking and financial services), funds and trusts
Key clients: Barclays, Credit Suisse, ABN Amro, Deutsche Bank, CVC, 3i, Axa, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Dune Finance PCC, ETFS Commodity Securities

Mourant shocked the market with news of its merger talks with Walkers in 2007. The sector was equally shocked when news of the collapse of the discussions emerged in February.

Nevertheless, it has been a strong year for the firm, which in April became the first offshore firm to open in Manhattan.

This came shortly after the firm announced the first merger in its history with Cayman firm Quin & Hampson. Cayman is now a key area of growth for Mourant.

Chief executive Stephen Ball says 2008 “has to be a year of consolidation of our previous growth”.

Yet the firm is powering forward with a twin-track strategy to expand internationally in the multi-jurisdictional areas of funds and finance, as well as nurturing growth in the core business areas of business, disputes and trusts.

The firm is also expected to grow its partnership base and has been touting around magic circle firms. There will be further office openings as well, with hints of a possible opening in Asia.

9: Elvinger Hoss & Prussen

Managing partner: Manou Hoss
Total number of partners: 26
Total number of lawyers: 79
Number of offices: One
Location: Luxembourg
Key practice areas: Corporate, commercial, banking, finance, securities, financial markets, M&A, capital markets, tax, investment funds, litigation
Key clients: Atlas Capital Group Holding, Schroders, Aberdeen Asset Management

Like Zurich-based Homburger, Elvinger Hoss & Prussen requires its partners to be capable of operating in multiple specialisms. The firm appointed four partners in the past year.

Elvinger also has a stated strategy of being an independent, non-affiliated organisation with one office in Luxembourg.

The firm rarely appears in the public eye despite acting on major international deals.

The Luxembourg firm operates in three core areas: corporate, litigation and investment funds.

The investment funds practice dominates Elvinger and accounts for the largest proportion of its turnover.

The firm is second only to Arendt in the Luxembourg investment funds market.

=10: Arendt & Medernach

Total number of partners: 24
Total number of lawyers: 250
Number of offices: Two
Locations: Luxembourg, Brussels, plus representative offices in New York and London
Key practice areas: International banking, corporate, tax, commercial, finance, litigation, investment management practices
Key clients: UBS, BNP Paribas, Bertelsmann, Clearstream, SBS Broadcasting

Formed through the merger of two Luxembourg firms, Arendt & Harles and Mersch & Medernach, in 1988, Arendt & Medernach has grown to become Luxembourg’s second-largest law firm, with high-profile clients BNP Paribas and UBS on its books.

The firm opened a representative office in London in September and strengthened relations with Irish firm Dillon Eustace by signing an exclusive alliance deal.

With Dublin and Luxembourg considered rival countries for fund management work, the alliance has brought benefits to both firms. The combined assets under management in both jurisdictions exceed e1tr (£747.38bn).

The London office was established with the aim of strengthening Arendt’s relations with UK firms and US firms with London bases.

The firm acts for a large number of banks, financial professionals, private equity funds and corporate clients based in the UK. It is best known for its international banking, corporate and tax, litigation and investment management work.

=10: Hassans

Managing partner: James Levy QC
Total number of partners: 24
Total number of lawyers: 52
Number of offices: Two
Locations: Gibraltar, Spain (Hassans SL)
Key practice areas: International tax, corporate, commercial, international finance, banking
Key clients: Barclays Bank, Royal Bank of Scotland, Deutsche Bank, Shell Gibraltar, ABN Amro, Taylor Woodrow, Lloyds TSB, Newcastle Building Society

Hassans opened an office in Sotogrande, Spain in 2007 under the leadership of partner Tony Privasali. Managing director Tim Streatfeild-James said Hassans SL will operate as a separate entity, but will be closely tied to its Gibraltar sister outfit.

The firm has concentrated most of its efforts in Spain, setting up with five associates. There are no plans to hire new partners to the office in 2008. Instead, Streatfeild-James said the firm would concentrate on building relationships with onshore firms.

In Gibraltar, meanwhile, one partner retired in 2007, but there have been no partner hires since 2005, when the firm recruited Stephen Foster from CMS Cameron McKenna.

The firm is in cautious growth mode, preferring to retain its client base to actively investing in new partners.

12: Bedell Cristin

Managing partner: Richard Gerwat
Total number of partners: 23
Total number of lawyers: 63
Number of offices: Four
Locations: Jersey, Guernsey, London, Geneva
Key practice areas: Banking, corporate finance, capital markets, structured investment funds, private equity, insurance, dispute resolution, trusts and private capital law, private client
Key clients: Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC, Barclays Capital, Lloyd’s TSB Corporate Markets, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan

Jersey-headquartered Bedell Cristin bolstered its partnership from 18 to 23 in 2007 – most significantly doubling its Guernsey presence from three partners to six. This included the lateral hire of partner Christopher Anderson from Ozannes, who joined in May.

The firm pushed forward with expansion across its remaining three offices, appointing two lawyers to the London office and moving to larger premises in Geneva last September.

“Our expansion has enabled us to increase our turnover by 20 per cent and our headcount by 25 per cent,” the firm told The Lawyer.

The expansion is part of a five-year plan to develop Beddell Cristin. The firm intends to grow all its offices further throughout 2008 – a move that is likely to be supported with a series of lateral hires.

In Jersey it will expand its employment law capability; in Guernsey broaden its service offerings; in London make further hires to the firm’s funds and capital markets team; and in Geneva to focus on growth of the trust and private capital team.

13: Ozannes

Chairman: Robert Shepherd
Total number of partners: 17
Total number of lawyers: 45
Number of offices: Two
Locations: Guernsey, Jersey
Key practice areas: Commercial, banking, commercial property, dispute resolution, employment, insurance, investment funds, private client, trusts, tax
Key clients: HSBC, States of Guernsey, Babcock & Brown, Investec, Orange

Guernsey-headquartered Ozannes took a laid-back approach to setting up its Jersey offices in 2006, but more than made up for it in 2007.

After six months in the planning, the firm opened its doors in September 2006 and swiftly moved to larger premises in 2007. It also launched a Jersey-based litigation practice in March 2007.

Ozannes poached Ashurst commercial litigation partner Mark Temple to lead the team.

“The corporate success of Jersey has well exceeded our expectations and has provided the impetus to get the next phase underway,” senior partner Roger Perrot says. In December the firm’s Guernsey office, alongside Norton Rose, was instructed by third-party funder Juridica Investments to advise it on its entry to AIM. It was the first litigation funding group to float on London’s junior market.

This year will see Ozannes looking for its next office opening, which is likely to be outside the UK. The firm also plans to further expand the Jersey office.

14: Cains

Managing director: Andrew Corlett
Total number of directors: 15
Total number of lawyers: 31
Number of offices: Three
Locations:Isle of Man, London, Singapore (from July 2008)
Key practice areas: Corporate, commercial
Key clients: HSBC, Barclays, Cathay Pacific, V Ships, Four Seasons Hotels, Close Investments

Cains makes its debut in The Lawyer’s offshore firm survey this year, but perhaps its ranking does not reflect the breadth of its reach.

Cains is listed by Hemscott as the firm with the most clients in the AIM 100, worth a combined £3.83bn.

The Isle of Man-headquartered firm acted for V Ships in 2007 when the shipping management company sold its stake in V Holdings to private equity house Exponent Private Equity in a deal worth $340m (£174.46m).

With more multimillion-dollar deals in the pipeline, the firm has joined the group of expansionist offshore firms.

In July 2008 Cains will open an office in Singapore, which will give it a base from which it intends to access India.

Managing director Andrew Corlett says the Isle of Man has become the jurisdiction of choice for Indian companies looking to get into London. Cains wants to be positioned to take advantage of the emerging markets.

The firm employs a director and managing directors rather than partners to give employees an increased opportunity of being promoted.

“It’s recognising that there needs to be more formal management roles,” says Corlett.

15: Harney Westwood & Riegels

Managing partner: Richard Peters
Total number of partners: 14
Total number of lawyers: 47
Number of offices: Four
Locations: British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, London, Hong Kong
Key practice areas: Banking and finance, corporate and commercial, investment funds, regulatory, litigation, insolvency, private client
Key clients: Virgin, TNK-BP, GAM, Stark, Deutsche Bank, International Swaps and Derivatives Association

Harneys Westwood & Riegels is one of the largest firms in the Caribbean and the oldest firm in the BVI.

The firm looked to Latin America to bolster its growth in 2007, with the hire of Marco Martins from Norton Rose. Development partner Peter Tarn says: “Latin America, and Brazil in particular, are key to our strategic objectives, but haven’t previously received the investment they deserve.”

The firm’s investment paid off and Harney made its biggest round of partner promotions at the end of the year, increasing from 10 to 14.

“It reflects where we’re going,” Tarn adds. “The business has grown enormously.”

The firm says its Asian business “is booming”, but anticipates that there will be greater competition in the emerging markets throughout 2008.

Harney is expected to open another office in 2008, but the firm refused to confirm its location.

=16: Bonn Schmitt Steichen

Managing partner: Alex Schmitt
Total number of partners: 13
Total number of lawyers: 55
Number of offices: Two
Locations: Luxembourg, Brussels
Key practice areas: Corporate, banking and finance, investment management, litigation, tax, regulatory
Key clients: ArcelorMittal, Pfizer

This year marks Bonn Schmitt Steichen’s first entry into The Lawyer’s offshore survey.

Managing partner Alex Schmitt acted on the takeover of Arcelor by Mittal Steel, which completed in 2007. It was one of the largest cross-border partnerships ever forged, creating an industry giant that controls 10 per cent of the world’s steel production and is worth an estimated $33bn (£16.93bn).

The firm’s financial practice is frequently instructed to act on enforcement issues by international and local clients, including International Swaps and Derivatives Association agreements, ancillary documents and netting agreements.

Bonn Schmitt has special expertise in the area of mortgage banks.

The firm is the exclusive member of Lex Mundi for Luxembourg. Lex Mundi is the world’s leading association of independent law firms, grouping 159 member firms with 375 offices spread across 155 countries.

=16: Dickinson Cruickshank

Managing partner: Paul Morris
Total number of partners: 13
Total number of lawyers: 45
Number of offices: Four
Locations: Isle of Man (three offices), London
Key practice areas: Commercial and company, dispute resolution, private client, property
Key clients: HSBC, Barclays Wealth, Royal Bank of Scotland International, AIG, KPMG

Dickinson Cruickshank is the