And a big tick for Herbert Smith and Freshfields. According to sources close to the hilarious RBS pitch process (was there ever so much comedy in a simple tender exercise?), both City firms have made it on to the bank’s panel – and against the odds. The pair are keeping quiet, but they ought to be delighted. Freshfields because it lost the RBS corporate advisory spot this year, and Herbert Smith because it lost the ING pitch last month. Given that alliance partner Stibbe has its office right next door to ING’s headquarters in Amsterdam, that must have stung.

Herbert Smith’s impressive spin machine may have convinced some that it was becoming a finance player, but some of its claims are as insubstantial as gossamer. Consider the facts. According to The Lawyer 100, it turns over a mere £21m in finance, with revenue per partner nosing in at just over £1m (that’s below Camerons and Ashursts, by the way). Projects aside, it’s got a neat little structured finance business, but the core of its relationship with Merrill Lynch, for example, is mostly through M&A/equity capital markets.

According to published deal lists, Herbert Smith has only acted for RBS in property finance – an area which also explains BLP’s presence on the RBS panel. And Herbert Smith isn’t saying, but you can be pretty sure that it put together a competitive quote for the RBS work – and then some.
Freshfields could do with some of Herbert Smith’s self-confidence. It has the fourth-largest finance practice of any City firm at £152m, but as The Lawyer revealed three weeks ago (20 October), it has had to resort to management consultants McKinsey to back up its hunches.

And the McKinsey verdict? That there are opportunities in banking that Freshfields ought to pursue. No kidding. Freshfields is three times the size of its nearest competitor in finance revenues – Norton Rose, fifth in The Lawyer 100 finance table, manages only £59.5m in turnover. The preliminary report has yet to be formally presented internally, but it could be the spark that Freshfields needs in building a market-facing debt practice.

If Freshfields is going to develop its finance relationships, they might include – ooh, let’s take a rough guess here – ABN Amro, HSBC, Deutsche, RBS, SocGen and JPMorgan Chase. But to get out of its borrower-led comfort zone, a little chutzpah is needed. And for that, don’t ask McKinsey. Ask Herbert Smith.