Trump transition leaves DC legal market “saturated”

The inauguration of president elect Donald Trump is a topic that reaches pretty much every aspect of life, something that is apparent in this comment from one Washington legal market specialist: “I was talking to my therapist last Friday and she told me that every one of her patients was obsessing with Trump. Nothing is in equilibrium. It’s like Brexit, you simply cannot think of anything else.”

Baker & Mckenzie predict plunge in M&A activity as Brexit uncertainty continues

Corporate deals in the UK will continue to drop on last year in the wake of Brexit uncertainty, according to one law firm.

Baker McKenzie’s medium-term forecast report on M&A activity predicts that in the event of an “amicable separation Brexit will have only a modest impact on transactions in most of Europe”.

However, the immediate outlook is less positive, with the report arguing that the value of deals this year would plunge by more than 60 per cent compared to last year, resulting in a total of about £102.5 billion.

In the rest of the EU, however, the forecasters expect the value of deals to soar by almost 44 per cent to £376bn.

Tim Gee, a partner at the firm, said: “Given Brexit’s impact on business confidence, we expect M&A values to fall by two thirds in 2017 after numerous large deals in the first half of last year boosted 2016.”

He added M&A activity should stabilise next year “as greater certainty emerges about the UK’s new relationship with the EU and the rest of the world”.

Government predicts defeat in Brexit legal challenge

London expects to lose its legal battle over whether it can start the Brexit process without wider parliamentary approval. The British government appealed a High Court ruling that parliament must be allowed to vote on triggering Article 50, which starts a two-year deadline for an EU member to withdraw from the political bloc.

HSF becomes second overseas firm to launch in Malaysia

Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) has secured a qualified foreign law firm (QFLF) licence from Malaysia’s Bar Council, meaning it is set to become just the second foreign firm to establish an office in the country.

HSF plans to open an office in Kuala Lumpur in May 2017 and will focus primarily on transactions, disputes and Islamic finance.

It will become the second international firm to have an office in the country after Trowers & Hamlins obtained the first Malaysian QFLF licence in 2015. The scheme, which was introduced in 2014, allows foreign firms and lawyers to practise foreign law in Malaysia.

Baker & McKenzie has a long established presence in the jurisdiction through its local member firm Wong & Partners since 1998.

HSF is yet to finalise details on staffing or appoint an office head, but it is expected to have six lawyers on the ground for the launch, including two or three partners.

HSF joint CEO Sonya Leydecher said the firm has been working with Malaysian clients for over 20 years and the new office will offer them “legal expertise on the ground in Kuala Lumpur, providing easier local access to our international network for their overseas business”.

Justin D’Agostino, the firm’s regional managing partner for Asia and Australia, added that the firm is increasingly busy with both transactions and disputes involving Malaysian clients.

“Malaysian corporates are getting bigger, stronger and sophisticated. They’re increasingly investing around the world and looking for international counsel to work with their local counsel. They are a big part of our Asia business. Having a strong team on the ground will deepen and strengthen these relationships,” D’Agostino said.

Most recently, the firm has advised Malaysian telecoms giant Axiata on a $600m investment in its telecoms infrastructure company edotco. Other major clients it has worked for include Petroliam Nasional Berhad and Sime Darby.

On the disputes front, the firm has recently acted in a major arbitration case, representing the Malaysian government in the ‘Railway Lands’ arbitration against the Republic of Singapore.

According to The Lawyer’s South East Asia Elite report 2016, HSF has the third largest practice in the region among international firms. It had 26 partners and 142 other lawyers across Bangkok, Singapore and Jakarta (through local association firm Hiswara Bunjamin & Tandjung) in 2015.

The Malaysian launch will give HSF its ninth location in Asia and fourth in South East Asia.

Malaysia moved to liberalise its legal services sector in June 2014, allowing foreign law firms to establish a presence in Malaysia for the first time through the QFLF licence scheme. The new regime also permits foreign firms and lawyers to form a joint venture, officially known as an international partnership, with Malaysian firms, owning up to 40 per cent foreign equity in the JV.

So far, only two firms have taken advantage of the liberalisation to apply for a QFLF, but interest from UK firms and chambers has been growing gradually.

In April 2016, DAC Beachcroft submitted an application to the Malaysian Bar Council for a licence to form a JV in Malaysia. In 2014, London set 39 Essex Street set up a base in the Kuala Lumpur Regional Centre for Arbitration.


President-elect Trump tasks Morgan Lewis with untangling his conflicts of interest

Morgan Lewis & Bockius has been instructed by US President-elect Donald Trump to untangle the conflicts of interest relating to his business interests and impending presidency.

In a press conference this afternoon (11 January), Morgan Lewis & Bockius partner Sheri Dillon, whose practice focuses on federal tax controversy, said that the firm had been instructed to “design a structure for his business empire that would completely isolate him from the management of the company”.

“President-elect Trump wants the American public to rest assured that all of his efforts are directed to pursuing the people’s business and not his own,” she said.

“Together [Trump’s sons] Eric and Alan have the authority to manage the Trump organisation and will make decisions for the duration of the presidency without any involvement whatsoever by President-elect Trump.”

Dillon claimed that Trump is “completely isolating himself from his business interests”.

She said: “He instructed us to take all steps realistically possible to make it clear that he is not exploiting the office of the presidency for his personal benefit.”

In the same press conference before handing over to Dillon, Trump said: “I could actually run my business and run government at the same time. I don’t like the way that looks, but I would be able to do that if I wanted to.”

Morgan Lewis partner Fred Fielding, who served as counsel to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, was named as a critical part of this process.

A Morgan Lewis spokesperson said: “It’s firm policy to not comment on client matters.”

It is understood that Trump’s son in law Jared Kushner, who was named senior adviser to the president, instructed WilmerHale to advise on his own conflicts of interest.

Morgan Lewis partner Dillon contributed $1,500 to the Clinton campaign in 2007, according to political funding website OpenSecrets.

Freshfields names Embley to lead M&A team alongside New York’s Herman

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has appointed corporate partners Bruce Embley and Matthew Herman as its new co-heads of global M&A.

London-based Embley and New York-based Herman took up their new roles in December, replacing Peter Lyons, who became Americas managing partner and Ben Spiers, who is set to join Simpson Thacher & Bartlett in London.

Corporate partner Embley is currently advising brewing giant AB InBev on its sale of a number of Eastern European beer brands, including Czech market leader Pilsner Urquell, to Japanese brewer Asahi for €7.8bn (£6.5bn).

He previously led the magic circle firm’s Dubai corporate team between 2006 and 2008 before transferring back to London. Deal highlights during his time in the Middle East include advising on Dubai International Capital’s bid for Liverpool Football Club in 2006.

US corporate head Herman has been with Freshfields since 2003, when he joined as an associate from dissolved California firm Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison. He made partner at Freshfields in 2006.

As US corporate head he has played a role overseeing the firm’s expansion in New York, with key corporate hires including Mitchell Presser from Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz and Americas head Lyons, who joined from Shearman & Sterling.

Key deals for Herman include advising investment firm Henderson Group on its $6bn (£4.6bn) merger with Janus Capital in 2016.

Freshfields has made several changes within its corporate leadership team recently, with London corporate partner David Higgins taking over from Adrian Maguire as co-head of the firm’s global financial investors group.

Baker McKenzie picks up seven lawyer team from KWM

Baker McKenzie has hired a seven-strong team from King & Wood Mallesons (KWM) in London, led by the firm’s head of China group Will Holder and head of employment Carl Richards.

The pair will join with a team of five associates this month.

According to a statement from Baker McKenzie, Holder will work closely with a number of partners including private equity funds head David Allen and TMT M&A head Charles Whitefoord “to drive growth in the transactional space, particularly in complex, cross border, multi-practice deals”.

Holder was previously seconded to KWM’s China office for 10 months. In August he took a lead role advising on the acquisition of English premier league club West Bromwich Albion FC by Yunyi Guokai Sports Development, in a deal estimated to be worth £150m.

Meanwhile Richards headed KWM’s employment practice for six years.

Earlier this week, The Lawyer reported that KWM had informed 100 staff and fee-earners in the UK, Europe and Middle East that their pay has been halted.

KWM filed its intention to appoint administrators in late December following a failed recapitalisation of its EUME business and several senior exits. Since then groups of partners have departed for both US and UK firms, including former senior partner Stephen Kon, who is joining Macfarlanes alongside three partners.

KWM China is expected to pick up a handful of partners, fee-earners and staff from the firm’s offices in London, Dubai, Spain, Madrid and Italy when the EUME LLP goes into administration later this month.

Among those in talks to stay with the global firm in KWM’s City office is a 10-lawyer disputes team led by international arbitration partner Andrei Yakovlev and litigation partners Dorothy Murray and Darren Roiser. KWM China is also in talks to buy out part of the London corporate and M&A practices.

The firm has also established a new LLP in the last week named KWM Deutschland. It is understood the entity is a move by KWM China to fulfil its regulatory requirements in Europe.

Not all of the firm’s German partners will stay with KWM however. On Tuesday (3 January) it emerged Allen & Overy had hired Frankfurt corporate partner Michiel Huizinga, with further departures expected.

It is not yet known what will happen to KWM’s offices in Belgium and Luxembourg. KWM’s Paris team, which was largely depleted following amass departure to Goodwin Procter earlier this year, is understood to be in talks with another firm.

In total, more than 40 partners left KWM across the UK, Europe and Middle East in the last two months of 2016 as the LLP’s finances reached crisis point and an administration became inevitable. Around 90 partners left the firm in total over 2016.

Skadden’s loses Europe competition co-head in Brussels to Denton’s

Dentons has hired Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom’s co-head of European competition James Venit in Brussels.

Venit, who has spent over 16 years as a partner at Skadden, joined Dentons in Brussels today (5 January).

He joined Skadden in 2000 from US rival Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, where he was also a partner, and became co-head of European competition at the elite US firm in 2010.

Dentons’ European competition practice is currently led by Juerg Karenfort, who is also co-head of the firm’s global practice.

Venit is considered to be one of the top antitrust practitioners in Brussels. During his time at Skadden, he advised on high-profile mergers including the €26.9bn ($33.6bn) tie-up of Mittal Steel and Arcelor in 2006, as well as and GE’s attempted $45bn takeover of Honeywell, which was blocked by the European Commission in 2005.

While at WilmerHale, he acted for AOL on its £250bn merger with Time Warner, and advised AT&T on its global joint venture with BT.

Dentons Brussels managing partner Edward Borovikov said: “His experience in high-profile competition and antitrust matters, and in particular in competition-related litigation, will further strengthen our reputable European Union competition practice here in Brussels.”

The move comes amid widespread anticipation of an increase in client demand for competition and trade advice, driven by the UK’s vote to leave the EU. Last year Legal Week reported that Slaughter and May would relocate a London competition partner to Brussels in preparation for a spike in work advising corporates on the UK’s post-Brexit trading relationship with the EU.

Addleshaws looking to merge with German firm Luther

Addleshaw Goddard is understood to be in talks over a potential tie-up with German law firm Luther.

The Cologne-headquartered firm has ten offices across Germany and six international offices. In 2016 it posted revenues of €124m (£106m), of which €110.3m (£94m) was generated by its German offices.

Addleshaws’ international network includes offices in Asia and the Middle East; however, the firm currently has no presence on the European continent.

Luther has European offices in London, Brussels and Luxembourg and Asian offices in Shanghai, Singapore and Myanmar’s former capital Yangon. In Germany the firm has bases in Berlin, Duesseldorf, Essen, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Hannover, Cologne, Leipzig, Munich and Stuttgart.

A spokesperson for Addleshaws said: “Germany is a market full of opportunity, but we don’t comment on merger speculation and so have nothing to say.”

The news comes after confirmation of Addleshaws’ merger with Scottish firm HBJ Gateley later this year – a tie-up scheduled to go live on 1 June.

Addleshaws posted revenues of £201.8m in 2015-16. Once the merger with HBJ takes effect, the firm will have roughly 230 partners, more than 1,100 lawyers and a combined fee income of around £224m.

The firm has also been looking to the US for merger opportunities, and held talks with Virginia headquartered firm Hunton & Williams last year. However, those talks stalled over the summer in the aftermath of the UK’s vote to leave the European Union.

KWM China in talks to purchase Dubai, Germany, Italy and Spain offices

King & Wood Mallesons China is in talks to buy out the firm’s Dubai, Germany, Italy and Spain offices, abandoning its Swiss verein structure in those jurisdictions, it is understood.

The China partnership is expected to pick up a significant chunk of partners, associates and support staff at each of those offices.

It is also talking to corporate and M&A partners in London about a possible purchase, which would see the Sino-Australian firm retain a small number of English lawyers in the capital.

It is not yet known what will happen to KWM’s offices in Belgium and Luxembourg, KWM’s Paris team, which was largely depleted following a mass departure to Goodwin Procter earlier this year, is understood to be in talks with another firm.

Goodwin is currently the subject of a lawsuit by KWM over the Paris hires.

KWM’s Munich office lost a number of lawyers to K&L Gates, Covington & Burling and Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe on Monday (19 December). The China deal is expected to include the majority of the remaining Munich base and KWM’s Frankfurt office.

The firm has also established a new LLP in the last week named KWM Deutschland. It is understood the entity is a move by KWM China to fulfil its regulatory requirements in Europe.

The Lawyer understands a deal between China and the Middle East and continental offices has not yet been signed.

KWM’s Dubai office is headed up by Tim Taylor QC, one of the biggest names at KWM and a legacy SJ Berwin partner. He is understood to be leading the talks with KWM China.

A KWM spokesperson was unavailable for comment regarding the Europe and Dubai deals.

Earlier this autumn the Chinese and Australian partnerships of KWM offered to inject around £14m of capital into the EUME business to meet its financial obligations to lenders, pay its rent and January tax bill. However just one fifth of partners agreed to the terms of the rescue deal, which included signing year-long lock-ins.

It emerged last week KWM China had instructed Addleshaw Goddard in the UK to advise it on a potential purchase in Europe as well as on reputational issues related to the troubled EUME partnership.

KWM EUME has seen a number of group exits in recent days as the firm looks to place as many lawyers as possible at other firms ahead of a possible pre-pack administration.

The firm’s profitable real estate team has split in two with a number including practice head William Naunton heading to DLA Piper, and others moving to Greenberg Traurig. A number of litigation lawyers led by practice head Craig Pollack are in talks to join Covington & Burling, while Reed Smith is expected to pick up a chunk of KWM’s corporate and tax lawyers including tax head Gareth Amdor.

Dentons had originally bid to take over KWM’s entire EUME arm but took its offer off the table following a due diligence process.