Who's the top dog in... corporate law?
Market Leaders Pick Their Market Leader
Wednesday 24 February 1999
Head of Corporate Finance
Slaughter and May
My judgement about corporate lawyers, outside my own firm, has to be based on experience on the other side of the negotiation table. I admire high-class lawyering, but to be successful that has to be combined with common sense, humour and an ability to get on with others even when (and especially when) winning the point.
I've negotiated with several people demonstrating those qualities, but for many years the following have done so consistently: Anthony Cann (Linklaters & Alliance) is an excellent lawyer who will turn his hand to solving his opponent's problems given half a chance; Anthony Salz (Freshfields) always negotiates with great charm, even when holding a losing hand; and Margaret Mountford (Herbert Smith) sorts things out directly while dismissing anybody who might be posturing or thinking unclearly.
Predictably I feel that, as a team, we have the best corporate lawyers here at Freshfields - it is a team that works well together and I wouldn't want to single any one of them out. So for names of individuals I have to go outside the firm.
To me the ideal individual is someone who is intelligent, careful, thoughtful and prepared to apply experience to develop brave and imaginative approaches to difficult issues - rather than being restricted by precedent. And of course, he or she has to have a sense of humour and to make the work fun, notwithstanding the considerable pressures of the heavy transactions. Perhaps no one quite achieves complete consistency on these idealistic standards.
Apart from my partners, there are one or two at Slaughter and May who score highly (when they choose to) - such as and Nigel Boardman. It is perhaps a sign of an effective corporate lawyer that they can also be difficult when they want to be. More seriously, these two are highly professional and, though formidable opposition, are good to have on the other side.
Head of Corporate Practice
I guess to be a decent corporate lawyer it goes without saying that you need to have a first class grasp of the law. That should be combined with a thorough understanding of the business issues at play, good project manager skills and a commitment to the client. I'd find it difficult to single out any one lawyer in particular but three guys who I feel particularly embody these characteristics are David Cheyne at Linklaters, Will Underhill at Slaughter and May and Adam Signy at Clifford Chance. Each of these lawyers is bright and quick-witted. They have an immediate understanding of the commercial issues and commitment to getting the transaction done. And each of them is a nice person. That too is an asset as when you are working on merger and acquisition deals, you do nothing else for 6 to 12 weeks at a time , working for 14 hours a day.
Head of Corporate Practice
Linklaters and Alliance
An ideal corporate lawyer would have to be confident and decisive; commercial and correct and able to carry through a significant transaction to its conclusion. Contacts in the law world are no longer the same as they were 25 years ago. Lawyers have to spend a lot more time maintaining relationships. It is for this reason that I would include social skills on the list of important characteristics for a corporate lawyer.
Leading corporate lawyers, to me, would be very much like our own David Cheyne and Richard Godden. Richard is of the new younger generation of lawyers, he's about 40 and is very highly rated. He's a star. He has a huge intelligence and a great deal of common sense. Beyond my firm, I would look to Nigel Boardman at Slaughter and May who is a sound and tough lawyer who gets things done. And, of course, Anthony Salz of Freshfields.
I would have to pick Anthony Salz as the corporate lawyer I most admire. He is certainly one of the best corporate lawyers in the UK. He is pleasant to deal with and has a commercial mind. Importantly, he doesn't waste time on bad points in a meeting - there is nothing worse from the client's point of view than seeing lawyers quibbling. Then there's Edward Walker- Arnott who is senior partner at Herbert Smith. He is a very wise bird. He has immense stores of experience - experience which is varied. He's not just exceptionally good at corporate law but he's also more than competent in insolvency and litigation. And what is particularly admirable is that he doesn't dilute his ability by his varied practice. These are just the two best corporate lawyers who sprang to mind, but obviously there are numerous other very competent legal minds out there.
Dibb, Lupton Alsop
I'm not sure if it's cheating somewhat to mention one of our own, but I do feel that Andrew Darwin, who is the head of our corporate practice, is one the most impressive lawyers around at the moment. He's resident in Yorkshire and to my mind is one of the few regionally based corporate lawyers who has a national reputation. And on top of that he's better than anyone I know at client service. He has a wonderful way of relating to the client which is of paramount importance. Outside of my firm, I would single out Mike Francies of Weil, Gotshal and Manges, as he has wonderful client skills and is a superb operator; he's the Andrew Darwin of the City.
Ashurst Morris Crisp
The ideal corporate lawyer should be easy to deal with and has to be in tune with the client's business. We can draw a historical parallel here in that it should not be forgotten that back a few generations, leading solicitors were men of business. Then the tendance was towards very academic solicitors. Indeed in places this is still the same. But London based law firms have become such success stories precisely because they are more rounded than certain Continental legal firms.
The London law firms are consulted for more than just a judgment on points of legal order. One man who slips easily into this new solictor role is Giles Henderson of Slaughter and May. Giles was in at the ground floor in privatisations and set the model for them with his awesome legal mind. Then there's Len Berkowitz, now retired. He was an all round lawyer and a brilliant chap to deal with. Finally there's Laurence Rutman who used to be a partner here. He headed up the property side of the firm but used to carry out corporate deals. He was a fantastic negotiator and a consummate deal-doer - with him, you had to count your fingers when you left the meeting room.
Corporate Finance Partner
Allen & Overy
If I had to single out any one corporate lawyer, it would be Jeremy Brownlow of Clifford Chance. I say this because he's cool-minded, easy to deal with and very attentive to the client; more important, he is also very good to have across the table from you. He's helpful and sensible rather than being pointlessly difficult.
I'd also pick out Guy Beringer at Allen & Overy for embodying the same qualities as Jeremy, really. Guy is still relatively young and I do think that age is an important factor in corporate law. You have be capable of operating at the highest level which does get easier with age. For example, if you're doing a transaction for the financial director of the FTSE 100 then he will be looking for a corporate lawyer with experience commensurate with his. But what being a good corporate lawyer really boils down to is being able to operate at the highest level. And while one tends to take technical expertise for granted, personality does play a big part.
Lovell White Durrant
I wouldn't want to suggest by picking out the odd name here and there that any lawyer is better than another, I am just trying to pick out people who epitomise what being a good lawyer is about.
I'd pick out Daniel Mace, who is our senior corporate finance lawyer. He is an excellent operator with clear judgement and excellent client skills. I'd also single out David Lewis, senior partner at Norton Rose who I've known of since we were in Hong Kong together. Again he's an excellent operator with encyclopaedic knowledge of the law and very good judgement. Finally there is Edward Walker-Arnott who I admire because of the breadth of his practice.
Head of Corporate Law
I do think that it's quite an invidious task to pick out particular individuals; obviously we think we've got the best team we could have here at Herbert Smith. But there are some very first class corporate lawyers out there in the other big firms. And the quality of the individual is always vital to transactions.
Those established lawyers I admire would be David Cheyne of Linklaters, Anthony Salz of Freshfields and Nigel Boardman of Slaughter and May. I should point out that there is a large number of very impressive, up and coming corporate finance lawyers. In my view, a decent corporate lawyer should have a good grasp of law and practice, they should be versatile and they should be able to deal well with the clients. It's all fairly obvious really. Then your reputation builds as you become known and respected. One of the most important things in corporate finance is to achieve recognition within the legal and business community. Once you've made yourself a decent reputation with the investors, you've got the big ticket.
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