Advised Ernst & Young on Canary Wharf and Arthur Andersen on Ferranti in the last recession and is generally considered to lead the field, particularly because of the firm's general finance practice, which brings in complex international restructuring work. However, its competitors are gearing up fast and are quick to point out that A&O has not been successful in winning all the recent big Asian collapses. (Peregrine went to Clifford Chance and Japan Leasing to Linklaters.) Its Asian work is more focused on international debt restructuring, particularly in Thailand.
The only US firm to have made an impact in this field, Cadwalader hired Clifford Chance insolvency star Andrew Wilkinson in 1997, along with a team of assistants. This was followed in 1998 by the arrival of Simmons & Simmons partner James Roome, who had previously advised the government of Abu Dhabi on BCCI. Cadwalader soon started to make waves – it advised Halcyon, the vulture fund which torpedoed the Barings settlement, and has gone all-out for bondholder and creditor work. Barings was followed by Ionica, where a US-UK team is currently advising bondholders.
The insolvency group was hit by the departures of three partners in late 1997: Andrew Wilkinson to Cadwalader, Ashley Booker to Manches and Sandy Shandro to Freshfields. Since then the Clifford Chance team has been regrouping and is in much better shape than its competitors would like to think – it has two of the brightest young partners in the market in David Steinberg and Adrian Cohen. Clifford Chance's biggest boost was when it won Peregrine in Hong Kong – the biggest insolvency job in the world. The firm also has a strong practice in the insurance insolvency sector.
Well known for working closely with Lloyds Bank, Cameron McKenna has also picked up a considerable amount of work from the Royal Bank of Scotland in recent years. In the last recession, the firm advised Deloitte & Touche on Polly Peck, one of the biggest and highest-profile cases of the 1990s. Camerons also has a strong central European base, and has recently been assiduous in building up its Hong Kong presence.
Freshfields' traditional role as adviser to the Bank of England has prevented it from taking major insolvency jobs; for example, it began advising on BCCI but was conflicted out. However, with the Bank of England no longer the regulator, there is a chance for Freshfields to make up some ground. It already advises Citibank on a number of restructurings. The firm recently hired Sandy Shandro from Clifford Chance and Chris Mallon of Biddle & Co (and formerly of Lovell White Durrant) to bolster its practice. Its international work is currently focused on Brunei.
Linklaters & Alliance
Linklaters has traditionally lagged behind Allen & Overy and Clifford Chance in the insolvency market. It was perceived to have missed out on the big insolvency work in the last recession. In 1997, it hired a team from Dibb Lupton Alsop to build its capability and won two key jobs: Ionica in the UK and Japan Leasing in Hong Kong. Partner Robert Elliott is the only man who has managed to break Wilde Sapte's stranglehold on NatWest work.
Herbert Smith advised Eurotunnel on its huge restructuring project, but had no presence in conventional insolvency until it hired Stephen Gale from Hammond Suddards in 1997. Gale – one of the best-connected insolvency lawyers – has built a 12-strong team. Current big jobs include the provisional liquidation of P&I Club Ocean Mutua. The firm's international strategy in this area is focused on Hong Kong and Thailand.
Best known for being NatWest's house lawyers, which has brought it plenty of work on both restructurings and insolvency. Large jobs in the last recession included Leyland-DAF, plus a whole raft of restructurings. It also does a large amount of work for Barclays and Midland. On the restructuring side, it has one of the largest and best-respected teams in the country and more than any other firm earns consistent praise from users.
Lovell White Durrant
Advised Deloitte & Touche on the collapse of BCCI and all mass of litigation that followed. Lovells has a strong domestic and international banking practice – thanks to Barclays – as well as a solid position in the now-sexy area of insurance insolvency. Its international strategy in this area is focused more on Asia and the US than on Europe, although its Moscow and Prague offices are inevitably involved in advising on restructurings in the aftermath of the Russian crisis.
Research taken from The Insider's Guide to Insolvency and Rescue, published by New City Media, June 1999.