I find the IFLR1000 an up-to-date and credible source for selecting and sourcing new legal firms in a new business area or country, and to compare legal firms capabilities in different practices.
I find the tiered rankings particularly useful when benchmarking and comparing between existing legal firms, plus looking at unfamiliar legal practices or locations.
Mohammad AlGhamdiManagerCorporate financingSABIC
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Allen & Overy
Allen & Overy entered the Czech market in 1992. The firm has one of the strongest finance practices in the Czech Republic. Led by Václav Valvoda, its structured and asset finance practice is prominent in its ability to structure difficult transactions. It advises clients on domestic and cross-border asset financings, including debt, lease, capital markets driven products, receivables financings, vendor programmes and retail finance. Its work in financial regulatory is also well established. With its capability in English and Czech law and its strong international network, the firm is certainly a comforting choice for clients. "Allen & Overy engages from time to time in pro bono work for the public sector, which I, as a senior civil servant, value highly," one client says.
In banking and finance, Allen & Overy acted for Macquarie European Infrastructure Fund 4 on the €525 million financing of the acquisition of a 35% stake in RWE Grid Holding, the holding company for four regional gas distribution networks in the Czech Republic. The transaction was the most important reorganisation in the Czech gas market since privatisation, and it is was first RAB-based financing on the Czech regulated infrastructure market.
After another strong year in the capital markets, Allen & Overy has finally ended White & Case's sole dominance of tier 1. The firm advised joint arrangers and lead managers Barclays Bank, BNP Paribas and Raiffeisen on the establishment by Raiffeisen of a €5 billion international covered bond programme and an international covered bonds issue of €500 million. With this Raiffeisenbank has become the first Czech bank ever to issue covered bonds on the Eurobond market. Senior associate Petr Vybíral has been a subject for praise. "He's very proactive. He has the foresight and commercial intuition to put forth proposals at the regulatory level with a view of benefitting capital markets participants, clients and ultimately his firm," one client says.
Jane Townsend and Jan Myska lead the firm's M&A department. Private equity is an area that has been increasing in activity and private investors have been seeking out joint ventures rather than complete takeovers. For example, Myska led the team that advised the founders and shareholders of Walmark, the Czech dietary supplements company, on the 50% capital entry by Mid Europa Partners, one of the largest private equity funds in the region.
As mentioned above, Allen & Overy has a very strong reputation for structured finance. The procedural knowledge combined with transaction experience makes the firm a strong choice in restructuring and insolvency. "It offered solutions that respected the complete environment and it's not solely focused on the legal solution," one client says, adding: "A&O offers a solution that considers the business aspects and possible future developments." A lot of the firm's insolvency work has litigious elements. The firm advised Glencore Grain, a commodities producer, in several litigations involving insolvent counterparties or insolvency trustees. Also, in the first ever sale of Czech Export Bank's bad debt, Valvoda led the team that advised UniCredit on its acquisition and subsequent sale to a third party of Czech Export Bank's €30 million secured loan to Ekran for 70% of the face value.
Morley Allen & Overy
In a tough market, Morley Allen & Overy has had a steady year that has seen more of the same in terms of high quality output. The firm's Central European banking and finance team is based in Budapest and is fronted by James Graham. Established two years ago and bringing with it English law capability; the team has been active on transactions in Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Romania and Slovenia. In a market that generates much restructuring work, the restructuring and insolvency team cooperates closely with corporate and banking practices. The firm has been active in these matters and continued to advise Wanhua and BorsodChem.
In the last 12 months, the tier 1 banking and finance team continued to attract some strong mandates. The domestic team was focused on loan restructuring and asset restructuring of banks and it has strengthened its relationships with clients like MKB, CIB and Citibank. The winding-up of "ex-offshore" companies has been a trend of late; for example, Zoltan Lengyel led the team that advised Capita on the final dissolution – including matters of insolvency – of various Hungarian companies jointly serviced by the client.
As is the case for most firms, M&A has recently been a bit of a struggle. Yet the firm did manage to close two big transactions. It acted for Gilbarco Veeder-Root, a business line of Danaher Corporation, in its acquisition of the Hungarian, Romanian, Serbian and Montenegrin entities of the ACIS Group. The firm also advised Agrofert on the acquisition of an input trading business from IKR. It was also involved in a number of joint venture transactions – a regional trend as investors prefer this to outright acquisitions in a jittery market. "Working with someone overseas can create time challenges," one client says. "I consistently received timely responses – often overnight – and it was able to respond and complete resolutions within extremely short time horizons."
The firm truly excels in the capital markets and this year has been no different. Phil Smith in London led the team – including Zoltán Lengyel in Budapest – that advised MOL, the Hungarian oil and gas company, on the establishment of its $1 billion guaranteed Euro medium term note programme and its following $500 million issue.
Radu Taracila Padurari Retevoescu – Allen & Overy
Allen & Overy in Romania is associated with Radu Taracila Padurari Retevoescu (RTPR). Partners Victor Padurari and Alexandru Retevoescu head the firm's banking and finance practice. The firm benefits from Allen & Overy's international expertise and draws in some high value mandates. It has been active in refinancing and project finance work and has acted for key client, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), in a number of mandates. For example, it advised the EBRD in relation to Romanian municipalities' local transport financing projects amounting to €65 million. "Victor Padurari and his team consistently offer very high quality services and have developed deep business knowledge in the municipal sector in Romania," one client says.
RTPR's corporate practice has had a busy 2012 under the leadership of Costin Taracila and Mihai Ristici. The firm has been involved in acquisitions and joint ventures in sectors ranging from pharmaceuticals to food. Ristici advised Tokai Rubber Industries, a Japanese company, on its acquisition of automotive supplier Anvis from HIG Europe, an alternative investment firm and European arm of HIG Capital.
One senior banking client is full of praise for the strength in depth of the team at Allen & Overy. "They have a strong team of people; they seem to have depth in their team and were able to throw a lot of people at the deal," they say. "It was a very complex, landmark transaction for the Russian market and I think other firms would have struggled to deliver both in terms of the depth of the team and the understanding of the local legal market."
According to partners at the firm the future of the Russian legal market looks distinctly more Russian than it has done before. They point to the increasing influence of Russian banks in deals and to strong Russian corporations looking to the future as driving factors behind this. To that end they say it is important to have native Russia speakers who can also work with English law.
The newest addition to the banking team fits that model perfectly. Oleg Khomenko joined the team as a senior associate in April 2013 from the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group in Sydney. Clients are delighted with the work of the team and one senior banking client specifically points to the successful dynamic of partners Stephen Matthews and Elena Tchoubykina. "Elena is very good at helping non-Russians come to terms with some of the Russian legal issues, of which there are many. I think Stephen is very useful because he helps to Anglicise it in a way. He understands how Russian clients do business and he's a useful bridge for Western and European clients." Other clients are also quick to praise the work of Matthews, with one senior banking client describing him as the difference between success and failure. "He is always three steps ahead technically and totally focussed on the commercial objectives," they say. "For English law advice on the ground in Moscow, Stephen is clearly a leading lawyer in the Russian market and is the best I have personally come across."
In the capital markets space, however, the firm is less strong. It drops down a tier in the equity rankings due to an apparent lack of activity on the market. As one competitor notes: "Allen & Overy has very small footprint in the Moscow ECM (equity capital markets) market." Conversely the team is very strong and active in the debt markets, advising on a number of complex note issuances. Clients are particularly impressed with the work of Matthews in this area too, with one senior banking in-house counsel describing him as "one of the most impressive lawyers I have worked with". They say: "He is extremely dedicated to the success of a deal. He makes himself available at short notice and is very quick to respond to queries. He really stands out at a negotiating table and never fails to impress with creative solutions to complex issues."
The M&A team moves into tier 2 this year. A majority of peers agree that the team, led by Anton Konnov, should move up in the rankings and, backed up by some impressive transactions, the firm does indeed do that. Of particular interest is an increase in activity in the CIS and Russian regions which some believe will be an increasing trend in the next few years. One client is delighted with the work of senior associate Gareth Irving, saying he "perfectly manages the project" and has a deep understanding of the subject matter. "He is a brilliant lawyer, ensuring that matters move forward more quickly and more efficiently under his charge," they say. "He is outstanding and he is a person I trust."
The firm retains its ranking in project finance this year. The team is led by partner Igor Gorchakov who joined the firm in May 2012 along with associate Fedor Belykh from Baker & McKenzie. It has a broad reach including London-based partner Gareth Price, global head of the projects group and co-head of energy and Paris-based energy expert Christine Poyer-Rufenacht.
The restructuring and insolvency team was involved in some of the more interesting transactions this year. This includes advising three international finance institutions (Commerzbank, HSH Nordbank and VTB Bank) on the Amurmetal insolvency.
Another year has passed and it has been another successful one for Allen & Overy. The firm is one of two distinct leaders in the Slovak market. "Allen & Overy still performs perfectly although the departure of Peter Kubina to Dentons is certainly a loss," one peer says. Its banking and finance practice is led by Renátus Kollár, an expert in restructuring, bankruptcy, corporate finance, acquisition finance, project finance and real estate finance. There has been a shortage in new money deals but there has been a good amount of refinancing and restructuring mandates that has kept the firm busy. "We use its services in Slovak on the banking side," one client says. "Renátus Kollár definitely shows a high degree of knowledge."
The firm's M&A team, led by Hugh Owen and Martin Magál, sets the bar in the market. Coupled with a prominent international network, the firm is deeply integrated into the domestic market. When local M&A dries up, the Bratislava office serves as a hub for regional M&A in Central and South Eastern Europe. "We compare its service with other law firms and the others are ok, but when you need a real advisor on crucial matters, A&O stands out in capacity and outlook," one client says. The firm has strong competition and employment law practices and is rapidly developing in life sciences and intellectual property. This is important for clients as a number of the firm's corporate and M&A transactions require specialist advice from these areas.
In a key finance transaction, Kollár led the team that advised banks on the €2 billion acquisition financing for a 49% stake in Slovenský Plynárenský Priemysel, a Slovak gas company, by Energetický a Prumyslový Holding (EPH).
In the capital markets, the firm advised Citibank, Barclays and JPMorgan on a hedging transaction in respect to the $2 billion sovereign bond issue by the Slovak state.
In M&A, Owen continued to advise PineBridge Investments and River Styxx Capital in the acquisition of Romexterra Bank from MKB Bank. Owen also advised an international media company on a number of potential acquisitions in South Eastern Europe.
Gedik & Eraksoy – Allen & Overy
Allen & Overy's entry into the Turkish market was the story of 2012. There had been much speculation beforehand of the firm's intention to establish a physical presence in Istanbul and this was realised when the firm entered into an exclusive association with Gedik & Eraksoy last year. Charles Lindsay is in charge of the Istanbul office where he practices English law.
Since 2002, Allen & Overy watched Turkey's political and economic advances closely. It had previously worked with local firms such as Hergüner Bilgen Özeke, Paksoy and Bener Law Office. Then in November 2012, it tied-up with Hakkı Gedik and Gökhan Eraksoy, partners at Hergüner Bilgen Özeke who left and founded Gedik & Eraksoy.
Allen & Overy, along with other international firms interested in Turkey, saw the considerable potential for banking and capital markets work in the market. Also, in the country's energy and infrastructure sector alone, there is a demand for $50 billion of financing for projects. A key feature of the tie-up will be its ability to offer clients both Turkish and English law advice in Turkish transactions.
Since its launch, the firm has attracted some impressive mandates and has entered the rankings in banking, capital markets and project finance. It will be able to provide its local and foreign clients with access to the expertise of Allen & Overy's international network and so push for higher places in forthcoming editions.
Lindsay led the team that advised the European Investment Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in the over $1 billion Eurasia Bosphorus Tunnel project. He also took the lead when the firm advised the successful consortium of Koç, Gözde and UEM on the privatisation of bridges, highways and connected facilities in Turkey which will be partly financed by international financial institutions (IFIs).
On the debt side of the capital markets, the firm has expertise across a range of products. This includes standalone bonds and debt programmes, Islamic structures, subordinated debt and hybrid capital. With ability in the English, Turkish and US legal aspects of capital markets transactions, it has already secured some notable instructions. It advised the joint lead managers on Albank's 1 billion Turkish Lira denominated bond issue, equivalent to €384 million, sold to international and qualified investors in Turkey.
In banking, the firm advised the lender Deutsche Bank in €50 million and €120 million long-term financing facilities for Dogus Holding.
In M&A, the firm has been active advising strategic and private equity clients acquiring Turkish assets. This is particularly true in respect to private equity investors in the Middle East.
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