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The Legal 500 Hall of Fame highlights individuals who have received constant praise by their clients for continued excellence. The Hall of Fame highlights, to clients, the law firm partners who are at the pinnacle of the profession. Starting with the United States, the criteria for entry is to have been recognised by The Legal 500 as one of the elite leading lawyers for six consecutive years. Fewer than 500 partners across the entire United States have made it into the inaugural list. These partners are highlighted below and throughout the editorial.

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United States > Investment fund formation and management > Overview > Law firm and leading lawyer rankings

Editorial

Regulatory overhang continues to play a significant role in the investment management industry. Although 2015 was not a notable year in terms of significant new laws coming into force, regulators made use of public pronouncements, investigations and enforcement action as a means of policing the industry, in order to further their objective of minimising systemic risks and maximising investor protections. The issue of ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements presents both registered and private fund managers with a juggling act, as they also seek to attract new investors, establish new funds, execute investment strategies and create returns.

Traditionally regarded by regulators as ‘the bright children in the classroom’, particularly compared to their historically unregistered private funds counterparts, registered fund managers have always been subject to the provisions laid down in the Investment Advisers Act 1940 and the Investment Company Act 1940. In recent years, however, there has been a marked convergence between registered and private funds; alternative asset managers have seen the benefits of ‘retailising’ products and have used registered fund wrappers to cater for their alternative fund strategies managers, while those historically active in registered funds have utilised more alternative strategies. However, while liquid alternatives funds are still being launched, the market for them has matured thanks in part to a protracted low interest rate environment as well as a regulatory regime that is more complicated for new entrants to the registered funds market. From a regulatory standpoint, registered fund managers are being challenged on a number of fronts. In May 2015, the SEC proposed new rules to modernise reporting and disclosure obligations, while more recently the regulator has carried out sweeps of fund companies looking at ‘distributions in guise’. Other issues grabbing the market’s attention have been the SEC’s proposed regulation on the use of derivatives in registered funds, and proposals on liquidity risk management and swing pricing. In terms of product development, the popularity of the exchange-traded fund (ETF) continues apace, offering lower costs and better tax management than mutual funds. Research shows that investors pulled $207.3bn from actively managed mutual funds and put $413.8bn into passively-managed funds and ETFs in 2015.

Although there were no major revolutionary developments in the private equity sphere in the US in 2015, asset managers were nevertheless subjected to particularly intense regulatory scrutiny; a slew of high-profile SEC enforcement cases brought home the importance of dealing with issues such as the allocation and disclosure of fees and expenses, and conflicts of interest, among others. Managers contemplating marketing in Europe are still getting to grips with AIFMD, although the Directive is becoming better understood. Overall fund-raising activity was robust in 2015; aggregate fund raising looked set to match or surpass the $590bn raised in 2014. Fewer funds closed in 2015 compared to 2014, however. Although the global fundraising environment is healthy overall, fund managers are still finding it challenging to deploy unspent capital; the level of dry powder available to private equity managers increased from $695bn in 2014 to $752bn in 2015. The market continues to be divided between the ‘haves’ - those very large global institutions that generally experience few difficulties in attracting investor capital for their mega-funds - and the ‘have nots’ made up of smaller, less well-established managers without a track record and which find the capital-raising environment more challenging. Blackstone Capital Partners VII, which raised $18bn, represented the largest private equity fund closed in 2015.

Although the private equity arena has been a focus of regulatory scrutiny, many of the core areas that regulators have been looking at are equally applicable to the hedge funds space. Indeed, it is widely anticipated that the focus of regulators will swing back towards hedge funds in 2016; the SEC recently announced an upcoming review, with issues such as conflicts of interest, valuation and performance expected to come to the fore, among others. The overall picture for the hedge funds sector is mixed; although 2015 represented a tough year in terms of performance (the sector recorded the lowest annual performance since 2011), total assets under management increased to $3.2 trillion from $3.02 trillion at the end of 2014, with 829 hedge funds launched in the year and 695 fund closings. Despite this, there is a stark contrast between start-up players on one end of the spectrum, and the very largest global managers at the other end; the former struggle to compete in terms of raising capital and on performance. In addition, US-based managers of private funds with over $150m in assets under management are required to register as investment advisers with the SEC in accordance with the Dodd-Frank Act; the associated ongoing regulatory and compliance costs can be prohibitive to some new entrants.

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