The Winner’s circle

The winner’s circle

Competition for The Lawyer Awards this year was as fierce as ever. The quality of submissions for both individuals and firms was astounding. The Lawyer looks at some of the winners and exactly why they were the ones awarded a prize

Banking and capital markets team of the year

It will come as no surprise that Clifford Chance wins the award for banking and capital markets team of the year, sponsored by Badenoch & Clark.

The small number of finance firms have had an outstanding year, advising on ever more complex deals. However, it was the Olivetti financing in 1999 which really stirred the market and set a new benchmark. Clifford Chance advised a syndicate led by Chase Manhattan on the financing of what was then the largest ever hostile takeover bid ever made – the package amounted to 60.4bn euros (£37.7bn), and included the largest bond issue in corporate history. Not only did Clifford Chance help redefine acquisition financing, but the Olivetti job demonstrated the importance of an integrated European product line.

Second place goes to Norton Rose for its role advising Chase Manhattan on the debt package on the leveraged buyout (LBO) of Hillsdown Holdings – the largest completed public to private LBO in the London market in 1999. Taken with its role on the senior debt side of Zeneca, Norton Rose is now one of the leading players in leveraged finance, not least through its close relationship with Chase Manhattan.

Allen & Overy wins third place for advising Morgan Stanley Dean Witter on the £1.54bn securitisation of the Broadgate Estate. Following its role on the £555m securitisation of properties at Canary Wharf, the A&O securitisation team is developing a strong reputation for structural innovation.

Chambers of the year

Blackstone Chambers wins this year’s chambers of the year award, sponsored by Lawtel, for its outstanding progress and development in commercial and public law.

It is now one of the most successful sets at the bar and must surely be considered as the fifth member of the “magic circle” of commercial chambers. Unlike many other sets it has not pursued a policy of expansion through lateral hires and as a result is one of the most cohesive chambers at the bar. It has been quietly building its profile and reputation over the last few years, and now has leading barristers in all of its core fields of practice – commercial, public and public international, European and employment law.

Tenants have been involved in many of the leading cases of the last year. These have ranged from Pinochet and the BSE Inquiry to Thompson and Venables, and includes appearing on both sides in the action brought by the State of Brunei against HRH Prince Jefri Bolkiah in respect of the alleged misappropriation of $15bn (£9.9bn) and probably the second biggest fraud case of the year in a claim for more than £200m in Brown v Bennett.

In second place is Serle Court, which has made great strides over the course of the year, after the merger of Serle Court Chambers and One Hare Court. The merger itself broke new ground, being the first between a chancery set and a commercial chambers, and reflects the convergence of two traditionally distinct spheres of work.

For the second year running Doughty Street Chambers wins third place in The Lawyer Awards. In its 10th anniversary the set continues to lead the way in civil liberties and human rights work. Its commitment to pro bono work is unrivalled and it has been at the forefront of advice and training for public authorities on the impact of the Human Rights Act 1998.

Corporate finance team of the year

Weil Gotshal & Manges wins the award for corporate finance team of the year, sponsored by Chadwick Nott.

Until recently, Weil Gotshal was thought of as a finance-based operation. However, the US firm has been involved in a string of high-profile corporate deals over the past year. Most significant of all was its role advising US private equity house Hicks Muse Tate & Furst on the contested bid for Hillsdown Holdings – a public to private deal of huge complexity. Weil Gotshal is particularly commended for being able to hold its own on major corporate transactions against firms with considerably greater resources.

Second place goes to Ashurst Morris Crisp for the £825m buyout of William Hill. After William Hill’s flotation was pulled, the Ashursts team, advising Cinven and CVC, had to scramble to complete the buyout, which was accomplished in 48 hours.

The third place winner is Herbert Smith, for two landmark IPOs – Freeserve and – the two largest internet IPOs so far in the UK. They are the first major UK retail offerings substantially effected through the internet, with all the attendant regulatory issues. The deals were also distinctive in that the London Stock Exchange used them as the basis for developing its new regime for the listing of high growth companies, in particular those without a three-year trading record.

In-house legal team of the year

Cable & Wireless wins the award for in-house team of the year, sponsored by Baker & McKenzie.

The C&W team has sailed through a series of major corporate changes in the last year and handled a series of substantial deals. General counsel Dan Fitz led his team of 19 through the restructuring of Cable & Wireless Communications, which separated CWC’s consumer and business divisions for sale to NTL and C&W respectively. The complexity of the £15bn transaction was immense. The legal department also handled the largest ever takeover in Asia with the sale of its Hong Kong Telecommunications division to Pacific Century CyberWorks valued at £12bn. In Europe, the team handled the acquisition of 13 internet service providers and network integrators.

Aside from work at the coalface, training within the department is viewed as crucial to its development, with lawyers encouraged to work in different offices around the world and swap roles regularly.

Second place goes to Asda. Turning around any deal in five days would offer a serious challenge to any in-house team, but when it is a deal affecting the entire future of the company itself, the stakes are even higher. This was the prospect that Asda’s in-house department, led by Denise Jagger, faced when after weeks negotiating a merger with Kingfisher a successful bid came in from USgiant Wal-Mart only days before the final closing date.

In third place, Allied Domecq’s legal team was at the centre of an epic battle last year as Punch Taverns and Whitbread fought to take over its UK retail business. Whitbread withdrew its bid when it was referred to the competition commission. Punch Taverns then won the deal with a £2.75bn offer.

Since completion of the deal, the former head of legal David Mitchell, who saw through the battle, has retired. But the Allied Domecq team is to be commended for its work on such a complex and high-profile transaction.

Global law firm of the year

Few with any knowledge of the international legal market could argue with the choice of Clifford Chance as winner of this category, sponsored by The Garfield Robbins Group.

Now officially the world’s largest law firm, Clifford Chance accomplished an astonishing coup last year with its tripartite merger with New York firm Rogers & Wells and German based Pünder Volhard Weber & Axster.

Both mergers have gone ahead with minimal fallout and provide Clifford Chance with the market’s first truly global network, plus arguably the best-known legal brand outside the profession.

With other firms scrambling to follow Clifford Chance’s lead, they can only hope to achieve a transatlantic link-up with the efficacy of the Rogers & Wells merger.

In second place, Shearman & Sterling has shown a level of commitment to its international growth unmatched by any US firm in the market.

Last year alone the firm aggressively built each of its offices, most notably in London, Frankfurt and Paris, with great determination.

Shearman & Sterling has shown that it is not afraid to invest in its European strategy, attracting some of the best lawyers in Germany to its highly respected Frankfurt practice. In London, the firm has local lawyers running scared through its dominance of the leveraged finance market.

Third place winner, Allen & Overy, has spread its reach over nearly every inch of the globe with great success In the last 12 months. From targeting the Asian Pacific market to its successful merger in the Benelux region with Loeff Claeys Verbeke, the firm has shown no fear in attacking a number of significant markets at once.

While boosting its US operation with some impressive lateral hires, Allen & Overy has been one of the only UK firms to actively grow in the eastern European market.

Litigation team of the year

First place goes to Herbert Smith for its part in the Vodafone takeover of Mannesmann.

Its role was certainly less high-profile than that of the corporate lawyers who put the transaction together, but its high speed defence of an injunction brought against its client Goldman Sachs was a key element of the deal.

Mannesmann brought an injunction against Goldman Sachs to try and prevent it acting for Vodafone, as it had previously acted for Orange when it was taken over by the German giant. With only 36 hours notice of the injunction, the team, led by litigation partner Christa Band (below right) and corporate partner Henry Raine (top right), prepared 10 witness statements.

All the claims by Mannesmann failed, with Mr Justice Lightman finding that no assurance had been given by Goldman Sachs not to act against Mannesmann in any possible hostile takeover bid and that the German company had failed to identify any confidential information held by Herbert Smith’s client.

Second is Eversheds for the Bloody Sunday inquiry. While not perhaps in the realms of traditional litigation work, the Eversheds team has displayed skills that would stretch any litigator in the preparation for the inquiry. Not only was the subject matter emotive and politically sensitive, but it also surrounds an event that took place 28 years ago.

To build up a picture of what really happened, many of the 100-strong team led by Peter Watkin Jones, worked exclusively on the job for over 18 months interviewing almost 1,500 witnesses.

In third place is Norton Rose for the case against Equitable Life. This case put Norton Rose into the headlines, acting on behalf of around 90,000 private pension policy holders against Equitable Life in a test case that, according to the Financial Times, has a value to the industry of around £14bn. Norton Rose has won a landmark victory in the Court of Appeal, which ruled that Equitable Life had been wrong to pay policy holders radically different bonuses depending on whether they took the option of a guaranteed annuity.

In-house lawyer of the year

Denise Jagger (right) wins in-house lawyer of the year, sponsored by ADR Group. As well as the high-profile, high speed takeover of her company by Wal-Mart, Denise Jagger has led her legal team at Asda through some complex cases. These have included the fight by Italian ham producers to prevent Asda using the Parma ham name after packaging was moved back to the UK, and the forthcoming inquiry into restrictive trade practices within the medicine and vitamins market.

Despite only having a team of four, the in-house department handles around half the company’s legal work and finds the time to train non-lawyer colleagues on legal issues.

Jagger is an enthusiastic leader of the team who is passionate about Asda and has a somewhat unorthodox approach to her work. Last year she persuaded her Leeds-based advisers to take part in an adopt a store scheme which saw lawyers helping out as shop assistants across the city for a day.

Second place goes to Stephen Scott at Vodafone. His achievements over the past year are obvious to all. He managed both his internal and external legal teams to complete both the biggest European hostile takeover ever and the first ever hostile takeover by a foreign firm within the German market.

With the usual problems involved in a deal of the comparable size of managing vast teams, Scott has also faced the problems of handling a complex deal in a very different jurisdiction.

Third is Grant Dawson at Centrica, whose in-house legal department has helped the company diversify into new areas by buying the Automobile Association. It was a complex deal which had an added dimension in that approval had to be sought not from shareholders or just the board but 4.6 million members as well.

Dawson has also recently had to deal with two restructures of his department – the first on its demerger from British Gas and the second emanating from the acquisition of the AA.

Law firm of the year

SJ Berwin has long been considered one of the most entrepreneurial firms in the City. This award, sponsored by the Bank of Ireland, recognises the innovation and growth of the firm over the past year.

Noticing that competition for good assistants was about to escalate, SJ Berwin not only decided to up its salaries before any other firm, but implemented a flexible and innovative career advisory service to provide new clients for the future in the shape of those assistants tempted away by the dotcom boom.

Following the example of some US firms, SJ Berwin is currently working on an investment fund which will provide additional bonuses for its much valued staff. In terms of continental expansion, it is one of the best placed firms outside the UK top 10. By astutely focusing on its core service line of venture capital, it has been building up a streamlined European practice, most notably in Germany and Spain.

In second place, Herbert Smith has shown that it is a force to be reckoned with in the corporate field. It is increasingly recognised as one of the key corporate players outside the traditional magic circle. In 1999 it appeared in a series of heavyweight transactions, underlining its growing profile. The firm has also just embarked on a major management restructure under the leadership of its new senior partner, Richard Bond to maximise its already considerable strengths in the City market. Its next challenge is to sort out its international strategy.

The third place winner, Berrymans Lace Mawer, has emerged as a true survivor of the increasingly shrinking insurance market over the last year. While panels constrict, Berrymans has retained strong relationships with many of the largest composite insurers. As insurance clients demand ever better value from their lawyers, Berrymans is a standard-bearer of consistent quality in a difficult market.

Partner of the year

The winner of partner of the year, sponsored by lawpage, is David Cheyne (left) of Linklaters & Alliance.

Cheyne is not your average corporate lawyer. With a list of clients to die for, he has enjoyed one of his best years to date for his involvement in some of the most ground-breaking deals in the last 12 months.

But this award also recognises the remarkable commitment Cheyne has shown to his clients. It is an award for the skill he displayed when ensuring that long-time client BP was successful in its billion pound takeover of Atlantic Richfield, despite protracted wrangling with the US Federal Trade Commission. He has also acted for Vodafone on taking over AirTouch and Mannesmann.

Cheyne’s prominence in the M&A area is almost unparalleled and his longevity in his field is assured – simply through his desire to fight to the bitter end for his clients every time.

Second place goes to Stephen Mostyn-Williams, of Shearman & Sterling. One of the legal profession’s great entrepreneurs, Mostyn-Williams has managed to build a top-rank leveraged finance at Shearman & Sterling from a standing start. By making inroads into US houses such as Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley, Mostyn-Williams has catapulted Shearman & Sterling to the front rank of acquisition finance. As if to underline the point, his team was instructed on 14 out of 15 European leveraged buyouts last year, and signed 10.

In third place is Mike Francies of Weil Gotshal & Manges. In the last year, Francies has singlehandedly managed to make Weil Gotshal a credible player for heavyweight corporate work. Not only has he acted on a number of telecoms deals, but he played a pivotal role for US private equity house Hicks Muse Tate & Furst on the Hillsdown Holdings and United Biscuits deals.

Other winners

Barrister of the Year, sponsored by Smith Bernal International

Winner: Dan Brennan QC (above), 39 Essex Street

Second place: Jonathan Sumption QC, Brick Court Chambers

Third place: Paul Goulding QC, Blackstone Chambers

Employment Team of the Year, sponsored by Elite

Winner: Russell Jones & Walker

Second place: Baker & McKenzie

Third place: Lewis Silkin

Media IP/IT Team of the Year, sponsored by Tikit

Winner: Bristows

Second place: Olswang

Third place: Lovells

Projects/PFI Team of the Year, sponsored by Burosit (UK)

Winner: Allen & Overy

Second place: Norton Rose

Third place: CMS Cameron McKenna

Assistant Solicitor of the Year, sponsored by Hays DX

Winner: Olivia McKendrick, Linklaters & Alliance

Second place: Tim Field, Simmons & Simmons

Third place: Delia Kempley, Berwin Leighton

Managing Partner of the Year, sponsored by QD Legal

Winner: Nigel Knowles, DLA

Second place: Ian Terry, Freshfields

Third place: Alasdair Douglas, Travers Smith Braithwaite

Pro Bono Activity of the Year, sponsored by Tuckers Solicitors

Winner: Lovells

Second place: Allen & Overy

Third place: Oury Clark

Public Sector Team of the Year, sponsored by 39 Essex Street

Winner: London Borough of Camden

Second place: Treasury Solicitor’s Department

Third place: North Yorkshire Legal Services

Insurance Team of the Year, sponsored by

Winner: Rowe & Maw

Second place: Clyde & Co

Third place: Freshfields

Property Team of the Year, sponsored by Countrywide Legal Indemnities

Winner: SJ Berwin & Co

Second place: CMS Cameron McKenna

Third place: Norton Rose

M&A Team of the Year, sponsored by ICC Information

Winner: Linklaters & Alliance

Second place: Freshfields

Third place: Slaughter and May

Legal Personality of the Year, sponsored by Sweet & Maxwell

Winner: The Home Secretary, Jack Straw

Dan Brennan QC,