In the race to cover the globe with a myriad of flags, few firms have achieved reach on the same scale as Allen & Overy (A&O).
The magic circle firm boasts a network of offices that spans 26 countries, with recent additions including last year’s bold launch of two new offices in Australia.
Co-chair of the firm’s energy practice Jeremy Parr, who shares the leadership with Gareth Price, argues the sprawling web of offices was one of the firm’s major selling points for top energy clients, which include the likes of Shell and BG Group.
“Energy is a global business,” he says. “We feel we’re getting real traction in our energy practice now, and we want to be known as an energy firm.”
Parr and Price are in daily contact with the firm’s new Australian offices in Sydney and Perth, with the latter office taking a particularly sharp focus on energy, mining and natural resources opportunities.
Mining lawyers Geoff Simpson and Meredith Campion, both based in Perth, are leading on a deal advising the world’s largest gold miner Equinox Minerals on a $7.8bn takeover bid by Barrick Gold.
On the energy front, Parr is also excited about gas opportunities in Australia, as well as the neighbouring Asian market’s appetite for its rich natural resources.
“There’s the whole shale gas revolution going on, and we’re now seeing shale gas deals in Australia and huge development around LNG trains,” he says. “We’re acting for sponsors, banks and people interested in where gas is going. There’s also a huge Chinese interest in the natural resources [in Australia] and also interest from Japan.”
Parr also views Australia as an gateway from which to make a serious push into the lucrative Asian energy market.
“We’ve got a major network in Asia, including offices in Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Tokyo and China, and these offices are predominantly manned by locals,” he says. “But we do need expertise in industries like energy, and they’re usually US or UK lawyers.
“What the Australian opportunity also does is give us a pool of those lawyers much closer to home. It’s much easier to relocate someone from Perth to Singapore than parachuting someone in from London.”
The loss of project finance partner Alan Rae Smith to Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and the earlier departure of projects star partner Graham Vinter to BG Group prompted some of A&O’s critics to question its capabilities in the project finance arena, as well as its level of specialist energy expertise.
But the firm responded to this talent drain with last year’s lateral partner hires of M&A lawyer John Geraghty and oil and gas specialist Paul Griffin, both from Herbert Smith.
“The hires came about because we feel energy is a growth area for us,” Parr says.
“Paul Griffin, Dominic Morris and I are all doing energy project M&A and now we have John Geraghty as well. With the four of us I think we have as broad a bench as anyone in oil and gas transactions. But we want to double it and have real credibility in oil and gas. It’s a global move but given how many of these deals happen in English law, we wanted to make clear to the market we are really looking in this field now.”
So other than its global reach, how else is A&O differentiating itself from its magic circle peers and other major players in the international energy stakes?
Parr believes the firm’s wide range of practices and expertise, coupled with a true commitment to the energy sector, gives it an edge.
“We can do all aspects of work,” he says. “You may say one firm is good at litigation or finance and has really good energy expertise that goes alongside that. But we see ourselves as top-tier in M&A and project finance, and we’re building litigation and arbitration around that. We’re also really committed to the sector and we’re clearly investing and spending money to strengthen our resources.”
Bullish talk indeed.
Paul Griffin, John Geraghty, Gareth Price, Dominic Morris, Jeremy Parr, Geoff Simpson
Top three sectors
Oil and gas
Top three geographical regions
Financing of phases three and four of the Italy’s Montalto di Castro solar park
Client: Andromeda PV
Lead partners: Gareth Price, Tim Conduit, Stefano Sennhauser
Series of disposals for Shell including sale of downstream business in Africa
Lead partners: Jeremy Parr, Dominic Morris
$7.8bn takeover of Equinox Minerals by Barrick Gold
Client: Barrick Gold
Lead partners: Geoff Simpson, Meredith Campion