Awards: Riders on the Eurostorm

Russia dominates accolades of firms that have stayed strong and imaginative

It has become apparent over the past few years just how competitive a market Europe now is for law firms. Independents jostle for position with top players from the UK, US and now even Asia in an economic climate that continues to be volatile.

Last week’s fifth European Awards, held by The Lawyer in London, showcased firms and teams that have been outstanding in the way they have navigated that volatility. Winners, particularly European Firm of the Year Egorov Puginsky Afanasiev & Partners, convinced the judges that their strategy set them up for a stronger future.

In the past the awards have focused mainly on independent firms, with the exception of International Firm of the Year. This year there were four new practice area categories to recognise the role played by international firms on the Continent.

Pleasingly, those awards – banking & finance, competition, corporate and projects – ended up being split between independents and international firms.

Slaughter and May took home the European Competition Team of the Year award thanks to the work it carried out for German client Bertelsmann. Partner Philippe Chappatte and a team in Brussels implemented a strategy to enable Bertelsmann’s subsidiary Random House to enter a joint venture with Pearson’s Penguin in the teeth of opposition from the publishing world and EU hurdles.

Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) was the other international winner of a practice area prize. The firm’s Moscow office nabbed a lead role for the Government of St Petersburg on the world’s largest PPP toll road project. For the judges, HSF’s work on this stood out over fellow international finalists Ashurst and White & Case.

Ashurst was also shortlisted as European Banking & Finance Team of the Year, but lost out to Valencia-headquartered Broseta. The small firm beat big rivals after advising the Banco de Valencia on its restructuring.

Egorov Puginsky, meanwhile, added European Corporate Team of the Year to its Russia Firm of the Year title thanks to its role for UC Rusal on the acquisition of a stake in Norilsk Nickel by Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich. Its strategy of building an English law practice through the 2012 hire of HSF partner Robin Wittering was key to its success in the complex deal, which involved English law advice as well as Russian.

The corporate shortlist was a mix of internationals and independents, also featuring Ireland’s A&L Goodbody and teams from the European offices of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, Dentons, HSF and Hogan Lovells.

On a good night for Russia, perhaps a reflection of its increasing economic strength, Goltsblat BLP won International Firm of the Year. The Moscow arm of Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP), established through a spin-off from Russian firm Pepeliaev Group, is now the firm’s second-largest office and saw turnover grow by 21 per cent last year.

Perhaps the most hotly contested category, prompting a heated debate at the judges’ meeting in October, was Specialist Firm of the Year. The winner, continuing a strong tradition of Italian boutiques, was employment practice Lexellent. Just two years after spinning out of Eversheds’ Italian offices, the firm has made some key lateral hires and founded an international network.

The rest of the winners were a true cross-section of the market. Well-known names such as Slaughters’ German best friend Hengeler Mueller, Austrian powerhouse Wolf Theiss and A&L Goodbody all won regional awards.

But up-and-coming firms were also recognised in several jurisdictions. For example, 12-partner Franklin took home the French Law Firm of the Year award for showing the judges energy and vision. Likewise, pan-Balkan Karanovic & Nikolic’s determined strategy to establish itself across the region despite challenges in some countries of the former Yugoslavia impressed. And in Poland, Baltic Sea firm Magnusson was the winner despite being a relative newcomer to a market with many established players.

Many categories caused the judging panel – of general counsel with experience in Europe and UK managing and senior partners who routinely refer work to independent firms – headaches. It is not easy to decide if one firm’s diversity strategy is better than another’s succession planning, for example. Nevertheless, all the firms awarded this year were able to show they are doing something special. 


For all the winners and shortlisted firms, go to: