Milbank’s traditionally less-than-ravenous appetite for growth means that over the past three years most of its lateral investments would cumulatively fit into any one of Latham & Watkins’ strategic moves.
“We think of ourselves as the smallest of the big firms,” says London-based energy practice group chair Phill Fletcher.
The problem with that approach is that it runs the risk of having gaps in the platform, something Milbank went out of its way to address last year.
Milbank has long been a strong banking firm and, in terms of the global energy market, has for years been one of the leading firms in project finance. As Fletcher puts it: “We like to think that the second-best law firm in project finance is our alumni.”
But in its finance group overall, the sub-section of leveraged finance lagged behind. Milbank’s solution was to raid Latham in New York for a five-partner team led by Marc Hanrahan last year.
Although not related directly to the energy market, the Latham hires demonstrated Milbank’s new-found appetite for expansion.
“Our priority number one is to grow internally,” admits Fletcher.
This strategic shift has been best reflected by the succession of hires in London over the past couple of years, which have included Ashurst head of restructuring Nick Angel, DLA Piper asset finance partner James Cameron and high-yield specialist Peter Schwartz.
This London expansion has seen the size of its UK operations virtually double in little more than a year. That growth partly offsets the significant – in energy terms – exit of former project finance co-chair Ed Feo last year.
The new expansionist mood, a strategic shift helped in no small way by the record financial results Milbank posted in 2010, also saw the firm open an office in Sao Paulo last year targeting transactions in the oil and gas and infrastructure sector. The office is headed by the well-known Andrew Jánszky, formerly the head of Shearman & Sterling in Sao Paulo.
With the Brazilian initiative, Milbank dedicated significant attention from its project finance and energy practices, gaining involvement on a range of local energy projects as a result. Advising on the largest Chinese acquisition of power transmission assets outside China and the largest Chinese investment in Brazil – State Grid’s $1.8bn acquisition of seven power transmission projects from four Spanish EPC contractors – suggests it is paying dividends.
Indeed, Latin America – and Brazil in particular – is high on Milbank’s list of target regions, a strategy fuelled by the hefty capital budgets of the likes of Vale and Petrobas and the investment required in power and infrastructure to meet the expected population growth.
Elsewhere the firm is targeting Saudi Arabia, where Sabic and Aramco also have significant investment programmes, and Indonesia, which continues to be one of the fastest-growing countries in South East Asia.
It is also active in Mongolia, where Milbank is acting for the lenders on what is expected to be the single largest mining project in history. The mine is located in Mongolia and encompasses one of the world’s richest copper and gold deposits. The sponsor is Ivanhoe Mines, the largest shareholder of which is Rio Tinto, and the lenders will include a range of multilateral agencies, export credit agencies and commercial banks.
Last year also saw Milbank form cross-disciplinary industry groups, focusing on various facets of the energy and natural resources industries. Its groups include power/electricity (including renewables and nuclear), oil and gas, and mining and metals, with each drawing on expertise across finance, M&A, regulatory, litigation and tax.
In recognition of the globalisation of the energy business, the firm made non-US-based partner Fletcher practice group leader of the project finance group for the first time.
Phill Fletcher, John Dewer, Cathy Marsh, Karen Wong, Anthony Root
Top three sectors
Mining and metals
Oil and gas
Top three geographical regions
Mongolian Corp’s $950m acquisition of QGX Coal
Lead partner:Anthony Root
State Grid’s acquisition of seven power projects in Brazil
Client: State Grid
Lead partners:Anthony Root, Dan Bartfield
Shepherds Flat wind farm’s $1.3bn financing
Client: Lead arranging banks
Lead partners: Paul Denaro, Jon Green, Karen Wong