Lovells bucks slump with high-profile M&A deals

Lovells is undergoing a resurgence in its corporate practice after a slump saw the firm slide from the top 10 half-year M&A league tables.

A series of high-profile transactions are pushing the firm’s corporate practice back to prominence. Head of corporate Hugh Nineham is leading the practice after the semi-retirement of his predecessor Dan Mace.

Lovells is already advising long-time client Granada on its £7bn flotation – a lucrative deal that sees the media company once more using the firm after its successful £3.6bn hostile takeover of Forte Group in 1996. Hugh Nineham is leading the deal.

Media deals seem to be the flavour of the month for the firm, which is also advising AOL on its joint purchase with Wal-Mart of a 20 per cent stake in, the price comparison website. Richard Ufland led the deal.

July’s acquisition of Rank Hovis McDougall by Doughty Hanson & Co saw Lovells acting for the purchaser, while last week long-term client Barclays Bank said that it would be using Nineham and Andrew Pearson, together with Simmons & Simmons, to advise on the purchase of Woolwich building society. Clifford Chance is advising Woolwich.

The slump in Lovells’ M&A practice coincided with the semi-retirement of partner Dan Mace. Mace, who remains as a consultant for the firm, was prominent in the Granada/Forte deal and played an important role when Vickers was bought by Rolls-Royce for £576m. Speculation that the work left when Mace did is denied by the firm.

Nineham says: “Dan has contributed a huge amount to the practice and will continue to do so, but the suggestion that it has ever been a one-man band is totally ridiculous.”

He adds: “We have a less aggressive approach than the other firms at publicising our high profile deals. Any notion that we’ve done something dramatic is incorrect.”

Matthew Cottis, finance partner, says: “When you get the head of corporate finance retiring, the press and the competition tend to assume that you’ve got a massive gap. Instead the partners are paying more attention to their clients than they are to publicity.”