Allen & Overy (A&O) was one of the first UK firms to target the senior lender market in the early 1990s and did so with the greatest success. And for years that has defined its place in the UK market. It has also been buoyed by its leading UK insolvency practice and its top-tier derivatives and projects expertise. A&O was also one of the first firms to establish and cement its expertise in Islamic finance.
Now with a roll call of almost all the big-name banks and partners such as Stephen Kensell in banking, Boyan Wells in capital markets and David Krischer in securitisation, A&O is one of the mightiest UK firms for finance.
The London corporate practice, although not on par with finance, has started to push on during the past two years with star partners such as Andrew Ballheimer and Alan Paul.
A&O’s New York corporate group notably scooped a place on General Electric’s (GE) M&A panel in 2006. With Weil Gotshal & Manges it is one of only two panel firms to secure a place on all three of GE’s US, Europe and Asia groups.
Many of the non-transactional practice areas such as litigation and arbitration in London are high quality, but the teams are not of a sufficient size and international breadth to worry most transatlantic contenders.
Conservative A&O has fallen behind the rest of the magic circle in international reach, despite its US investment (and relative visibility). It is less prominent in many European markets than its magic circle rivals. This has hampered the firm’s ambitions with global clients and international expansion, especially as the dividing lines between investment banks, private equity and finance dissolved over the past decade. A&O’s magic circle rivals Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Linklaters look more rounded.
A&O is represented in 20 countries and several emerging markets. Its Benelux bureaux are among the most-rounded and respected of all the international firms’ there, even in corporate. In fact, it is still Benelux rather than London that has traditionally powered much of A&O’s European corporate strength in jurisdictions such as Germany.
The firm has grown into a semi-respectable outfit (for an alien) of around 150 lawyers in New York, with a noted derivatives practice. But this is still not enough to win the most serious US corporate instructions.
A&O’s finance strength is undoubted, but it still has patchy coverage in certain jurisdictions, notably Central and Eastern Europe. Plus the firm still has numerous practice area holes to plug and New York to sort out if it is to rise to the top of the transatlantic tree.