Sweet Sixteen: Linklaters

Star practices/people
The 200-partner corporate group is the central nervous system at Linklaters. It has grown to epic proportions since the firm’s pioneering attitude on the 1999 hostile bid for Mannesmann by Vodafone. The deal marked the firm’s global expansion into M&A.

Linklaters has an excellent FTSE100 client base, acting for 19 of the UK’s largest companies last year. The likes of iconic
senior partner David Cheyne and banking chief Robert Elliott ensure this remains the case.

If corporate is the nervous system then finance, with 169 partners, is the heart. Capital markets have always been big for Linklaters. The firm’s Asia ­business, for instance, was built around practice chief Nick ­Eastwell’s group.

Banking is another area that has grown strong through the power of the Linklaters brand. Sending John Tucker to New York is one of the smartest decisions managing partner Simon Davies has so far taken. Finance is key to joining up the dots.

Linklaters thinks of itself as a truly global firm. True for corporate and finance (think of its role on DP World), but real estate is such a small group it is almost invisible apart from a few domestic transactions. As for regulatory, there are holes. The New York office is hunting for banking regulatory lawyers. The firm’s weakness here was one reason it lost out to Sherman & Sterling to advise on US law aspects of the acquisition of ABN Amro.

Linklaters operates across 23 jurisdictions with 30 offices. Europe brings in 35 per cent of the firm’s revenue. It has an ­excellent French practice which is largely homegrown, while Germany has cut the fat ­recently to make it a leaner and meaner operation. Asia is Davies’ baby. He turned Asia around to provide 11 per cent of the firm’s revenue. China, Hong Kong and Singapore will remain key. Linklaters has yet to make much of an impact in the ­Middle East, where it lags ­behind the likes of Norton Rose. The US and South America accounts for just 5 per cent of turnover. But building this has been a strategic priority since deciding to go for New York only five years ago. It has made huge strides in the Big Apple with a series of hires.

The verdict
In the past five years Linklaters has shaped the magic circle market. Managing partner Tony Angel’s efforts to streamline the firm – and increase profitability dramatically – created a UK benchmark. No one should bet against the firm’s machine-like efficiency moving it past Clifford Chance to take the global top spot.