Ticket-only policy dropped as German and Japanese property takes centre stage

The sun was shining again this year on Mipim, the annual Cannes real estate conference, despite friction between UK law firms and the event’s organisers.

DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary – one among a group of objectors – threatened to injunct the organisers over proposals to restrict access to the jetée to those who were registered attendees at Mipim. The yachts moored along the jetée have long played host to UK law firms, including DLA Piper, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Lovells and Norton Rose, as well as Royal Bank of Scotland and property advisers DTZ.

For the 14 years Mipim has been in existence, the jetée has been a place for firms to conduct parties and do the occasional bit of business without having to buy a stand at the famous business bunker in the Palais des Festivals. So this year, in what many lawyers and property clients regarded as an attempt to force more participants to register, Mipim announced that access to the jetée would be restricted to those who had paid to attend. And at around e1,400 (£975) per person, attendance does not come cheap.

Almost immediately after registrations for Mipim closed in February, the restriction was lifted, and last week it seemed that all and sundry were wandering around the jetée.

Of course, it is not the first time that UK lawyers have come up against Mipim. Last year, Lovells’ boat Casablanca was raided by Cannes authorities, which confiscated business cards in an attempt to ensure that Lovells, which did not have a stand at the event, was not soliciting clients. Again this year, the Mipim police were pounding the beat for ‘Mipim pirates’.

Of the major firms, DLA Piper fielded the largest contingent, with 43 staff attending the market. The mood on DLA Piper’s yacht Conquistador was particularly upbeat, with partners from across the firm’s global network in attendance. New York partner Martin Polevoy was the toast of the boat after earlier this year beating a dozen of the US’s key real estate teams to secure the glamorous instruction for the New York Port Authority on the redevelopment of the former site of the World Trade Centre Twin Towers.

Lovells, led by Bob Kidby, also fielded a significant team of 25, while Eversheds, Clifford Chance and Norton Rose brought 20, 15 and 12 staff respectively. Robert Macgregor, Berwin Leighton Paisner‘s new head of real estate and long-time lawyer to Canary Wharf, was the star of the show at the firm’s ‘harem party’ on Wednesday evening (9 March), while developers and regeneration clients were in the majority at Wragge & Co’s breakfast, conducted in a luxury apartment just outside the centre of town.

At a real estate fund managers’ dinner organised by Palmer Capital Partners-backed fund Wrenbridge, Halifax Bank of Scotland chief economist Adam Chester expressed his optimism that the property market will likely remain stable this year and avoid the downturn that many have predicted. A key theme for Chester, as for many of the law firms in attendance, was the internationalisation of the real estate market and the growing importance of China in particular.

And while their larger rivals were entertaining from the yachts and apartments, the smaller UK players such as Maples Teesdale and Forsters were working the bars along the Croisette.

But perhaps what was most notable about this year’s legal contingent was the vast number of German lawyers working the yachts, the Croisette and the bunker at the Palais des Festivals. It seems that international investors are at last exploiting opportunities in Germany’s depressed property market, and German lawyers were out in force to woo potential clients.

Tokyo, too, was the talk of the conference, with international investment starting to flood into the market while property remains cheap. Between upbeat predictions from HBOS and even the occasional new instruction, the real estate market for UK law firms is alive and kicking.