While much of the internal turmoil Mayer Brown endured several years ago appears to be largely behind it, the firm is now a smaller and more geographically diverse animal than it was prior to the fiscal meltdown.
Four years ago the US firm had around 1,800 lawyers, 60 per cent of which were in the US. Now 1,650 strong, overall Mayer Brown has fewer in the US but has 300 in Asia alone, plus another 100 via its December 2009 association with Tauil & Chequer (the legacy Sao Paulo office of Reed Smith merger candidate and Texas energy specialist Thompson & Knight) in Brazil.
And while even its own partners will agree that Mayer Brown does not get an automatic invitation to the top dinner table for the biggest M&A, its energy group and project finance practices in particular have been beneficiaries of it spreading its wings beyond its US origins.
Indeed, the question of where the world’s leading firms are investing is easily answered by Mayer Brown’s co-head of global energy, London-based Rob Hamill.
“We changed our business at a macro economic level,” says Hamill, pointing to the launch of an office in Sao Paulo and the Tauil deal plus, a couple of years earlier, Mayer Brown’s merger with Asia firm Johnson Stokes & Master (JSM).
“Look at where the oil and gas industry is going to spend its dollar over the next 10 years,” he adds. “According to Chatham House, between 60 and 70 per cent will be in Brazil.”
Mayer Brown may have changed shape but its longstanding focus on emerging markets – notably via its project finance practice – continues.
Heading the list of its target sectors is oil and gas both in Brazil, where pre-salt discoveries point to significant reserves (an asset the government is currently considering how best to exploit, with national oil company Petrobras in pole position with the rights to all the fields), and also in US, where Mayer Brown has had an office in Houston – currently boasting around 100 lawyers – for 30 years.
The firm’s association with Tauil, which allows it to offer its global clients legal counsel on Brazilian domestic matters governed by local law, has also increased its resources for advising clients with respect to investments in Africa. This is particularly true of Angola, a politically stable country where many of the Brazilian firm’s clients are active.
But potentially a bigger prize is the oil markets of Iraq and Kurdistan, a semi-autonomous region of Iraq since 1992 which has the right to create its own oil and gas law.
Mayer Brown is currently representing oil and gas companies in both the north and south of the former country where the oil reserves are estimated at 150 billion barrels, the third-largest in the world.
Energy is one of Mayer Brown’s three strategic target global product lines – insurance and funds are the other two. Last year the firm underlined both its transatlantic capabilities and its involvement in the leading-edge developments in the sector when Hamill represented the new UK fund set up to invest in unconventional US oil and gas properties, Ecofin Energy Resources.
Working with Houston partner Kevin Shaw, Hamill advised Ecofin, a prime example of a UK company getting a slice of the shale gas bonanza, on its launch and first two acquisitions in the shale gas space.
Both deals – the acquisition of all of the equity interest in Bagby Energy in the Barnett Shale, and the working interests of High Cotton and Ranger Exploration in the Eagle Ford Shale – were in 2010.
Mayer Brown also has its eyes on Vietnam’s growing power needs over the next five years. The country already has a mix of coal, gas and oil-fired plants as well as hydropower plants but the burgeoning power demands required means it is certain to lead to more investment in its existing power system.
Mayer Brown, thanks to its JSM combination, believes it is well positioned to capitalise.
Ian Coles, Christopher Erckert, Rob Hamill, Barry Machlin, Stephen Hood
Top three sectors
Oil and gas
Top three geographical regions
Brazil (and Angola)
Ion Geophysical’s $300m joint venture with BGP on land seismic equipment
Lead partner: Marc Folladori
Launch of Ecofin Energy Resources and two acquisitions in the shale gas sector
Lead partners: Rob Hamill, Kevin Shaw
Klesch & Company’s acquisition of the Heide refinery from Shell Deutschland Oil
Lead partner: Andrew Stewart