The Legal 500: Europe, Middle East & Africa
The Legal 500 Europe, Middle East & Africa 2014 results are now live. The full in-depth, comprehensive analysis of law firms in 64 jurisdictions is available to view at www.legal500.com now - no registration or fee is required. The research can also be downloaded as a country-specific .epub or .mobi-formatted eBooks – ideal for use on Kindle, iPad, iPhone and Android/Blackberry readers. The Legal 500 EMEA eBook series provides easy, immediate access to the rankings and accompanying editorial, used by 4 million individual users each year, including 2.5 million corporate counsel.
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Germany’s M&A market has been stable and active at a relatively modest level, but with US investors capitalising on improved borrower conditions for takeovers in Germany, lawyers are optimistic about the market in 2014. Concurrently with this, the implementation of Basel III is expected to lead to an increase in distressed M&A. In banking and finance, lawyers remain busy with loan refinancings; large-cap transactions have reached an unprecedented level of complexity. In capital markets, the space has been characterised by aborted or postponed IPOs. Lawyers have also been busy advising clients on the Alternative Investment Fund Managers Directive (AIFMD).
The mood is grey in the City of Light these days despite most law firms reporting a small rise in turnover for 2013. Transactional activity is in steady decline and some believe the French market will never be the same again; it is now accepted that overseas deals – notably the African market – are the new transactional drivers for French law firms.
The legal market in Spain is displaying resilience despite the country’s debilitated economy, and saw significant movement in 2013. Among the headlines, Baker & McKenzie strengthened its corporate and finance teams with the hire of a nine-partner team from Ramón y Cajal Abogados; Clyde & Co and White & Case LLP made striking entrances to the market, capturing talent from DAC Beachcroft LLP and Latham & Watkins LLP respectively; and Irwin Mitchell sold its Spanish offices to Cremades & Calvo-Sotelo. International mergers saw Salans become part of Dentons, and SJ Berwin become part of King & Wood Mallesons SJ Berwin.
South Africa remains a jurisdiction of considerable interest for the international legal community, with the market experiencing yet more change. Routledge Modise became part of the Hogan Lovells global practice in December 2013, and earlier in the year Webber Wentzel entered into an alliance with international firm Linklaters LLP; these developments followed Baker & McKenzie Johannesburg’s entry into the market in 2012 and Norton Rose Fulbright South Africa (incorporated as Deneys Reitz Inc)’s move in 2011. With the global legal market’s focus on growth economies and resource-rich states, South Africa is becoming an increasingly attractive target.
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a federation of seven emirates bordering the Persian Gulf of which the larger two, Dubai and oil-rich Abu Dhabi, are important centres for local and international law firms. The attractions of these two cities to some 60 corporate law firms, half of which have offices in both, lies in the perception that the UAE provides the most stable political base for targeting the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Middle East and North Africa (MENA) markets. The Dubai International Finance Centre (DIFC), which was established in 2004, has all the characteristics of an offshore financial centre.Read more...
The €6bn recapitalisation of Portugal’s banking system has now concluded for all institutions except Banif. Vieira de Almeida & Associados advised the Portuguese state throughout, with Morais Leitão, Galvão Teles, Soares da Silva & Associados, Cuatrecasas, Gonçalves Pereira, Garrigues and Linklaters LLP acting for banks at various points in the process.
With the notable exception of activity in media and telecoms, Sweden’s transactional market remained otherwise rather static with few signs that it would return to pre-financial crisis levels. No Swedish IPOs were completed successfully in 2013, with work on the equity side mainly consisting of potential and aborted public offerings, and completed private placements. Reflecting the relative lack of new instructions, banking and finance matters included a significant proportion of restructurings for distressed or struggling companies, and insolvency and dispute resolution departments were kept busy with the fallout from massive bankruptcies such as those of Saab and HQ.
The Greek economy may remain in turmoil, but for the country’s largest law firms business has been relatively buoyant. Foreign investors are seeking bargains in the market, which has spurred corporate activity. Meanwhile the government’s privatisation programme, as conducted by the Hellenic Republic Assets Development Fund (HRADF), and the recapitalisation and consolidation of the banking sector, as overseen by the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund (HFSF), have generated considerable activity. The shipping market has also responded to the improved global economic climate, and shipping lawyers report a revival in ship financings and newbuilds, adding to the refinancings and disputes which have dominated the practice area in recent years. This uptick in maritime work has been good news for several of the UK law firms in the market, such as Norton Rose Fulbright, Watson, Farley & Williams – Greek Branch, Ince & Co and Stephenson Harwood.
A fragile eurozone has contributed to a contracting Dutch economy and the government has instigated austerity measures. Against this backdrop, one of the jurisdiction’s largest financial institutions, SNS Reaal, was nationalised in 2013 as a result of its weak finances. However, the Netherlands’ position as a neutral country and its corporate-friendly tax regime means it remains an attractive market for international business, particularly inbound and tax-driven deals.
The ongoing changes to the Russian civil code, aimed at promoting the use of Russian law as a basis for transactions, remain a hot topic in the market, with Russian law firms having worked together in an attempt to influence the outcome of the debate in the hope of boosting the attractiveness of Russian law to businesses. English law is currently widely used as it is viewed as a reliable basis for the enforcement of parties’ rights. The most prominent Russian firms have enhanced their English law expertise through associations with international law firms, and have also been able to recruit high-profile English-qualified practitioners.
Growing frustration with the waiting game in the Polish energy sector, as the government delays in issuing new guidance, led to the exit of two international energy companies from the market in 2013; Iberdrola and Dong Energy withdrew from the market, with PGE and Energa acquiring the Polish assets of both companies. There has also been a flurry of activity in the private healthcare market, including BUPA’s acquisition of the Lux Med Group, by way of international auction.
Casablanca continues to serve as an effective base of operations for a number of international firms with business in North Africa and the wider continent’s francophone countries. Baker & McKenzie Maroc SARL is one of the market’s most notable recent entrants, following its hire of former August & Debouzy lawyer Kamal Nasrollah in 2012.
Geneva and Zurich are the key legal centres of Switzerland, with Basel, Berne, Lugano and Lausanne also featuring prominently. Zurich, the country’s largest city and its financial centre, is home to the majority of leading banking and capital markets lawyers. Geneva, in the French-speaking west, is the location of choice for many international organisations for arbitration and litigation.