Issuu on Google+

SNR DENTON

28 Legal Business March 2012

LB222 p28-37 SNR Denton.indd 28

Photograph MARCO MICCERI

1/1/70 01:08:30


SNR DENTON

28 Legal Business March 2012

LB222 p28-37 SNR Denton.indd 28

Photograph MARCO MICCERI

1/1/70 01:08:30


Whichever way you cut it, the EMEA bu siness of SNR Dento has been a disaste n r of late. LB meets th e two men who need to put a smile back on their American colleagues’ faces EMMA SADOWSKI

M

atthew Jones spent most of last year in airport loun ge s. As SNR Den ton’s EMEA ch ie f executive, Jo nes has spen t more time at in his home 30,000 ft th office in Lon an don. Travelli other week, ng ever y his world-w ide trips hav away from th e strayed e post-transa tlantic merge road show an r d taken on a different ch altogether. aracter A long w it h U K m an ag in g par tner Bra ndon R an sley, Jones is tr y ing to pic the pieces o k up f the non-U S bu si ness b poor m an ag roken by ement, a ho rr ific fi nan and an exod cial cr isis u s of par tn er s. It is no secr et that legac y fi rm Dento Wilde Sapte n (DWS) has had a rough D u ri ng the ride. 2010/11 fi nan cial yea r, th U K L L P (i n e fi rm’s clud ing the M id d le East and Eu rope) po sted an 8% decrease in £154 .4m , w revenue to h ile profits per equ it y p (PE P) fell to ar tner an u n impre ssive £233,0 00. u

LB222 p28-37 SNR Denton.indd 29

1/1/70 01:09:17


SNR DENTON

u This represented a 34% drop (the second

in a five-year period) on the previous year and saw the bottom of the equity take home just £156,000. The EMEA side to the business sits at number 89 in LB’s profitability table, having performed better than just six fi rms in the entire top 100. But with profit per lawyer (PPL) at an all time low of £29,000 and a margin of just 13%, this fi rm has almost been run into the ground. By contrast, the fi rm’s US LLP, which came as part of the September 2010 merger with Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, just reported a 4.4% uptick in revenue to $474.5m. PEP climbed 6.7% to $880,000. On paper, a recession should present no significant problems for the EMEA business at SNR Denton. With strong roots in fi nance, particularly restructuring and insolvency, thanks to a pedigree that traces back to Wilde Sapte, and a good litigation track record, this market should have gifted SNR Denton a safety net to fall back on while the transactional side of the business suffered. Instead, the fi nance practice has seen a steady stream of partner departures, a lack of big ticket instructions, not to mention the retirement of restructuring and insolvency superstar Mark Andrews from the partnership and the imminent retirement of fellow partner and well-known practitioner Graham Paine. Yet, despite the problems the practice has endured, there are only platitudes instead of solutions. ‘We came off the back end of a tough year,’ says Ransley. ‘But there is an overall culture change across the fi rm, which is more entrepreneurial with an outlook to winning work from new and existing clients.’ Taking over the reigns from former chief executive Howard Morris, the Jones and Ransley duo have their work cut out. The pair has devised a new focus plan for the EMEA business, putting profitability and cost cutting at the top of the list. With new look management and a new look strategy, SNR Denton partners are enthusiastic that the fi rm is on a forward trajectory. But saying they will tackle profitability and actually achieving it are very different. And are the ghosts of the past still lurking in the fi rm’s corridors?

PROFITS AND LOSSES Unsurprisingly profitability, the firm’s biggest sore point, is at the top of the list for the new

‘The facts are that the partners didn’t want a hands on approach when it came to management.’ Martin Kitchen, SNR Denton management team. Partners ashamedly admit that its poor performance is embarrassing, with one partner exclaiming: ‘Our profits last year were horrid. And they came at such a bad time.’ ‘We are very careful to avoid confusion here. The strategy change is for the EMEA business and not the global business,’ says Jones. The pair’s fi rst move was to overhaul the partner pay structure within the UK LLP to bring it more in line with the US. Moving to a merit-based system in May last year, partner pay will now be directly linked to performance. Equity partners will each be assessed on a yearly basis against a number of criteria, including fi nancial performance, profitability and non-fi nancial contribution to the fi rm. Partners will face UK LLP board members once a year to have their pay and performance reviewed. The fi rm has allocated a bonus pool from which partners who have performed well will receive up to 5% of available profits. For

underperforming partners, management will review historical results and take a view. Changes to the pay structure in the fi rm’s EMEA business went down so well with management that the US also made changes in a bid to bring itself more in line with what was happening on the EMEA side by conducting pay reviews every year instead of every two years. Feelings in the UK were that a merit-based pay structure would help to address some of the concerns by partners that the previous management was too soft on underperforming partners (particularly those within fi nance and litigation). Management says the changes were also part of the post-merger agreement. UK senior partner Martin Kitchen says that in the years leading up to the merger with Sonnenschein, management’s hands were tied when it came to managing partners out. The fi rm’s deeds didn’t allow for the active management of low-performing partners as each would have required a vote by the partnership before being asked to leave if necessary. The sensitive culture at the fi rm meant that management wanted to preserve the dignity of the underachievers. But that changed in 2009 when Morris and Kitchen were given a mandate by the partners to change the constitution and the ability to manage out equity partners more effectively. The move, however, wasn’t fully put to use. Equity partner numbers fell at DWS from 90 to 89 between 2009 and 2010, while non-equity partner numbers went from 90 to 87 during that same period. While the move to a new pay structure was appreciated by current partners, who feel that underperforming partners should have been managed out during the fi nancial crisis, others weren’t so happy about the change. ‘There was a real threat to partners leaving because they changed over to the merit-based system. This is because now they can judge how much you’ll get when you leave,’ says a former partner. While the fi rm’s broken performance within the UK LLP has left a stain on its history, some partners argue that fi nancial performance has always been an issue for DWS, particularly after the combination of Denton Hall and Wilde Sapte in 2000. ‘I don’t think the merger ever really worked,’ comments a former partner. ‘It never

30 Legal Business March 2012

LB222 p28-37 SNR Denton.indd 30

1/1/70 01:10:07


SNR DENTON

TURNOVER AND PROFIT PER LAWYER 200

60

40

150

Turnover

Profit per lawyer (£k)

Turnover (£m)

50

30

Profit per lawyer

20

100 2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011 Source: LB100

really seemed to pull together. I just don’t think the partners meshed well.’ Another partner at the firm is to the point: ‘Financial performance has been poor for a long time and for people like me that is frustrating.’ Revenue at DWS, for example, failed to ever surpass the £200m mark. The closest it came was in 2003/04 when fee income hit £177m. In recent years profitability has really held the fi rm back. SNR Denton’s UK LLP has become one of the few fi rms to see PEP fall by almost 40% twice in a five-year period. The fi rst drop came in 2008/09. Overly exposed to the fi nancial sector, the fi rm’s PEP plummeted by 38% to £287,000 from £470,000 that year. The fi rm’s profit margin sank to 19% and the fi rm’s PPL went from £57,000 during 2007/08 to £35,000. While DWS’ pains hit partners hard, it was not alone in suffering: a collection of rival fi rms saw PEP fall by roughly the same amount that year. Both Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) and Ashurst suffered a 35% drop in PEP, while Addleshaw Goddard saw that figure drop by 32% and Nabarro, which is vulnerable to the real estate market, saw PEP drop by 38%. While its peers were busy improving fi nancial results after a blip (BLP’s PEP climbed 50% during 2010/11 and Ashurst’s rose 3%), gloom spread through the corridors of SNR Denton’s Fleet Place office as it saw EMEA PEP fall again, down 34% from £353,000 to £233,000. DWS’ five-year (from 2006 to 2011) PEP compound annual growth rate (CAGR) is

‘Now is the time for us to regroup and re-energise. The potential we have in this firm is enormous.’ Paul Holland, SNR Denton

-9%, while the fi rm’s revenue CAGR for the same period is 1%. However, during that five-year period, the fi rm’s equity partner numbers barely shifted. According to LB data, in 2006/07, there were 88 equity partners at DWS. In 2010/11, the fi rm had 85. In those between years, the fi rm’s PPL figure started a declining path. In 2006/07 it was £50,000 (with a profit margin of 22%), while in 2010/11 PPL for EMEA was £29,000 (with a 13% profit margin). The fi rm’s exposure to the fi nance and corporate markets helped to create some pain, while the lack of big ticket restructuring and litigation mandates have also been big contributors. But part of the fall off can also be attributed to previous poor decisions.

THE GHOST OF DENTON WILDE SAPTE There is no doubt that some of DWS’ past will haunt Jones and Ransley. For example, the fi rm has a massive property overhang. It still owns office space left over from the legacy Denton Hall and Wilde Sapte days, costing it more than £3m a year in extra costs. Denton Hall’s legacy includes two offices on Chancery Lane. Lewis Silkin sub-lets space at 5 Chancery Lane, while up until recently 124 Chancery Lane held DWS’ support staff (who have now moved to One Fleet Place). The former Wilde Sapte property, Strand Bridge House, is sub-let. ‘We’ve got too much property, but there is not much that we can do about it,’ u

March 2012 Legal Business 31

LB222 p28-37 SNR Denton.indd 31

1/1/70 01:10:10


SNR DENTON

u comments Jones. ‘The surplus leases are

running out soon, when they do, it’ll have a significantly positive impact on our profits.’ Managing the UK LLP’s cost base was again one of the fi rst hurdles management has tried to tackle. Jones says that last year, he and Ransley managed £8m worth of costs out of the fi rm’s UK LLP. The pair cut expenditure on IT, reducing what it spends on premises and slimming headcount. The fi rm’s LLP accounts show that fee-earner headcount during 2010/11 fell by 34, while administrative and support staff numbers went from 614 to 577, saving the fi rm £4.36m in salary costs. While coming to grips with managing the balance sheets, the biggest change Jones and Ransley want to make is to the way partners themselves approach their business. When asked why, if legacy DWS has such a strong reputation in restructuring, finance and litigation, has the firm suffered so heavily from a lack of mandates and huge instructions, Jones lets out a frustrated

laugh and says the firm is currently, as part of its new strategy, promoting a cultural expectation for associates and partners to work harder. ‘We want to develop more of an ownership culture among partners. There is the need to increase work and produce more billable hours, but it’s about more than that. It’s also about doing whatever it takes to deliver excellence in client service – always going the extra mile,’ says Jones. Jones says this approach is not just for the partners but for every member of the firm, from the post room to the single senior equity partner. Ransley has also launched, with the help of TMT chief Scott Singer, London corporate partner Richard Macklin and global corporate co-leader Jeremy Cohen, a training programme for partners to help restore confidence. The programme covers tips on how to win work from existing clients while going into the market and winning mandates from new clients. They are, essentially, trying to shed the firm of its complacent nature and culture, which is believed to be one of the contributing factors to the decline in business since the Denton Hall/Wilde Sapte merger. But culture change is a difficult, long and arduous process with no immediate effects. Despite this, expectations are that with some of the fi rm’s cost-cutting measures and new inspiration from the merger with Sonnenschein, that things will improve.

LETHAL COCKTAIL

‘We all seemed to get on really well. There is a nice atmosphere about the place and we have some great lawyers.’ Jeremy Cohen, SNR Denton

There is an air of excitement among DWS partners, more than one year after the Sonnenschein merger went live. While most UK partners see the merger as a saving grace, the changeover in management has been the biggest driver behind this surge in enthusiasm. But it has come at a cost. ‘There is a real confidence in the leaders of this fi rm at all levels,’ comments energy partner Christopher McGee-Osborne. ‘There is a clear vision now.’ Some argue that the clear vision was something the fi rm’s previous management seriously lacked. While no partner currently at the fi rm would admit that there were any faults in the way things were run (former partners aren’t as forgiving) following the Denton Hall/Wilde Sapte merger, there is a sense of relief that new management has taken over.

‘One of the main issues was that management at the time was trying to merge with other fi rms when they should have been trying to fi x our problems,’ says one former partner. Another says: ‘Effectively the style of management was to stare away from the iceberg when it was on the horizon. Management was a disaster because the firm had benign leaders.’ ‘The strategic review was heavily focused on tackling the issues around profitability

32 Legal Business March 2012

LB222 p28-37 SNR Denton.indd 32

1/1/70 01:10:14


SNR DENTON

MILTON KEYNES

driven by a strong sense that there was a need for change,’ says Jones. Jones replaced Morris as chief executive in March 2011, much to the surprise of the market and even partners at the firm as he was fairly unknown and always seen as a quiet leader. Ransley was appointed UK managing partner at the end of December 2010. At the time he was managing the firm’s Milton Keynes operation and now oversees its London and Milton Keynes businesses. Both were appointed by the board and each brings something different to the table.

‘Matthew has come in and already made a huge contribution,’ comments McGee-Osborne, while Singer says: ‘With Matthew and Brandon, we have much more firepower.’ But these changes meant that Morris faced a harsher fate, which came about at a cocktail party, according to numerous sources. At the combined firm’s first ever partner meeting at the Grande Lakes Ritz-Carlton in Orlando, Florida, a group of DWS partners approached then global co-chief executive Elliott u

Just 30 minutes from London is the purpose-built town of Milton Keynes. Home to a number of businesses because of its low property costs and proximity between the capital and Birmingham, the regional town is the perfect place for any law firm to set up a low-cost regional outpost. Legacy Denton Wilde Sapte (DWS) has been there for more than 20 years. The office dates back to the Denton Hall days and opened in 1988. It was then gifted to Wilde Sapte when the two merged in 2000. The office was enlarged by the addition of five partners and 22 fee-earners from local outfit Howes Percival in 2008, which also saw current UK managing partner Brandon Ransley join DWS. The team brought disputes, real estate, commercial and employment capabilities and truly gifted the firm with a low-cost, high-volume base outside of London. But the office was hit by two rounds of redundancies in 2009, with support staff and fee-earners affected by the cuts. Fast forward to the present day and Ransley, alongside EMEA chief executive Matthew Jones, signals the importance of the Milton Keynes office to the future of the business. ‘The Milton Keynes office is used offensively and defensively,’ says Ransley. ‘The larger clients are driving down prices and the regional offering can help that.’ The office currently has 11 partners, 65 fee-earners and has a turnover of £14m. Ransley says the office gets used for smaller deals for large clients, such as Sainsbury’s and Barclays, but is also used on smaller parts of large corporate deals. He points to last year’s takeover of once Spanish-owned Esporta by Virgin Active. The firm advised Virgin Active on the £78m deal and did the corporate work in London, but the property work in Milton Keynes. ‘Clients are demanding the move to a lower cost base. When we speak to laterals, they ask us not only about the global platform of the firm but also about the Milton Keynes office,’ says Ransley. The office is earmarked for substantial growth and already has enough floor space to grow by 30%.

March 2012 Legal Business 33

LB222 p28-37 SNR Denton.indd 33

1/1/70 01:10:52


SNR DENTON

u Portnoy and US management to express

concerns over Morris’ leadership. According to one member familiar with the scene: ‘A cocktail party for the global advisory committee essentially turned into a lynch mob.’ Partners complained that the firm’s management, led by Morris, was too complacent in actively managing the business through the downturn. It is understood that among the top complaints was an unwillingness by senior management to weed out underperforming partners who were sapping the equity and the lengthy trips taken by management during economic hard times, which were also draining resources. ‘We worked hard for the firm,’ defends UK senior partner Martin Kitchen, who was chairman at the time. ‘Howard took difficult decisions to run the business through the recession. ‘The facts are that when Howard was elected the partners didn’t want a hands-on approach when it came to management. They wanted a laissez-faire and more consensual approach. Whether that’s what the firm needed in the long run, I don’t know.’ ‘As set out in the information memorandum that was sent to all partners, it was always planned that I would only be co-chief executive for an interim period. It also made clear that the firm would be organising itself into a single management structure,’ defends Morris. Partners got what they asked for. In February 2011, Morris relinquished his role as co-chief executive to become the fi rm’s integration partner, seeing him leave London

‘We’ve got a compelling story to tell, we find ourselves with net gain, including 100 new lateral partners this year.’ Elliott Portnoy, SNR Denton

altogether and move to New York City for two years. His new role will see him travel around the firm’s US and international offices. ‘What was going on was the need to bring forward management changes. The [Sonnenschein and DWS] combination plans laid out the adoption of a new management structure within a three-year period. Those plans were delivered earlier than anticipated,’ says Jones. ‘I am also very proud of the hard work that the management team, the office and department heads devoted during my time as chief executive and co-chief executive and continue to devote to the fi rm. There is no truth in the suggestion that anyone neglected to respond to the challenges posed by volatile economic conditions,’ says Morris. The decision saw Portnoy, who shared the chief executive role with Morris, take on the post alone. Washington DC partner Joe Andrew was appointed as global chairman. The move also kickstarted the complete global overhaul of the combined fi rm’s structure. Each region has gone through change. The US, EMEA and Asia-Pacific offices now have their own senior partner, managing partner and chief executive. In December 2011, the merged fi rm created two new positions in its US business. New York partner Peter Wolfson was appointed as the fi rm’s chief executive for the region, while Washington DC partner Mike McNamara was appointed as US managing partner and Michael Barr (New York) has been appointed as senior partner.

TOTAL LAWYERS 1,000

Total lawyers

800

600

400 200

0 2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011 Source: LB100

34 Legal Business March 2012

LB222 p28-37 SNR Denton.indd 34

1/1/70 01:11:35


SNR DENTON

EMERGED MARKETS Ask any SNR Denton partner in the firm’s UK LLP what the firm’s biggest impact is on the global legal market and most will point to its emerging markets presence. Having recently opened two Chinese offices, the firm can now once again tick Asia off its geography wish list. In 2011, the firm struck up an alliance with Hong Kong-based Brandt Chan & Partners, which also has a representative office in Beijing. But Asia is no new market for legacy Denton Wilde Sapte (DWS). Denton Hall, for a long period of time, had a formidable presence in the region, with offices in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Beijing. Denton Hall suffered an exodus of partners from its Hong Kong office in 1999 and in the following year lost its Tokyo office to rival Herbert Smith. DWS’ past and present in the Middle East is a little more stable. It has been in the region for more than 40 years having opened in Abu Dhabi in 1967 through Denton Hall’s acquisition of Fox & Gibbons. According to Middle East senior partner Neil Cuthbert, the regional business now contributes over 20% of the firm’s EMEA revenue and has ten offices in nine countries in the region. By contrast, the UK business makes up roughly 60%.

‘We’ve really worked to align the business operations, compensation systems and governance globally, so that the US region matches the approach we’ve followed in the EMEA region,’ says Portnoy. In the Middle East, Neil Cuthbert, who was managing partner of the region between 2005 and 2011, was appointed as Middle East senior partner, while Dubai partner Michael Kerr has been appointed as UAE managing partner and Doha-based partner Leigh Hall has stepped into the Middle East regional managing partner role. ‘I really think we’re under better management now,’ comments Paul Holland, who was recently appointed head of banking and fi nance in London.

DEPARTURE LOUNGE SNR Denton’s London office has been notoriously difficult to recruit from, according to a managing partner at another City firm. ‘The CVs are on the market, I just can’t seem to get to the next stage with any of them,’ he complains.

‘We have strong roots in the region,’ says Cuthbert. ‘We were insulated [from the crash of Dubai World] and ensuing downturn to a large extent because we weren’t the new boys in town and held a strong regional base.’ However, the unrest in countries like Egypt and Bahrain has adversely impacted the region’s business. Cuthbert says the firm’s Middle East practice has shrunk by roughly 10%: ‘Last year was tough. We had to look to cut costs and exploit the opportunities around the region.’ The firm started by consolidating all of the offices to sit under one profit and loss account. This means that management can now take a unified approach to keeping a close eye on the business. ‘The first six months of the year have been difficult,’ comments EMEA chief executive Matthew Jones. ‘But in the second half the Middle East offices have started to deliver again at a healthy level.’ The Middle East has always been seen as the jewel in the crown. If the business in the UK and Europe was on a downward slope, the Middle East would pick up the pieces. But a number of partners interviewed for this piece pointed to the waning profitability of the region. ‘They had a reputation for

‘We are very careful to avoid confusion here. The strategy change is for the EMEA business and not the global business.’ Matthew Jones, SNR Denton

being wonderful and yet they have turned out the same profit again and again,’ complains a former partner. Cuthbert says the comments are fair as the practice was not a great net exporter to the remainder of the firm’s business. The work generated in the Middle East, was done in the Middle East, he says. The region, along with Russia, has also been earmarked for continual growth, while UK senior partner Martin Kitchen and US senior partner Michael Barr are currently reviewing whether the firm should attempt to absorb its alliance firms in Africa to bring them under the SNR Denton umbrella. The biggest headache for management outside of the UK and the Middle East is the firm’s Paris office. With just one partner left (after another steady stream of departing partners) management is currently back at square one. ‘We didn’t have much of a business model in Paris,’ says Jones. ‘We’re currently figuring out the best way to service the French needs of our clients.’ The issue is a sore point for Jones and UK managing partner Brandon Ransley, who both admit that the firm needs to do more to invest in the Paris market. They assure LB there are no current plans to shut the office down.

Last year, 15 partners resigned from SNR Denton’s London office. Of those leaving, four were board members (one retired), six were finance partners and most were senior, including finance partner Michael Black, real estate finance partner Ian Roberts, advocacy chief Rory McAlpine and litigation co-chief Paul Morris. Also in 2011, it appears the firm’s EMEA board quietly tightened its exit terms, holding senior equity partners to a 12-month notice period and junior equity partners to a sixmonth notice period in a bid to deter people from leaving. It is understood from market sources that partners like Black, Roberts, Paul Hayward-Surry and Andrew Hill were all held to 12-month notice periods, without the option of taking gardening leave. Black joined Norton Rose at the start of the year, while Roberts moved to Pinsent Masons, both left slightly before the 12 months were up. Management defends the move and u Jones says: ‘We felt it was appropriate

March 2012 Legal Business 35

LB222 p28-37 SNR Denton.indd 35

1/1/70 01:11:38


SNR DENTON

u for a number of reasons, but mostly to

ensure the stability of client relationships and service delivery. The constitution position on notice is as it has been for a long time. It hasn’t changed.’ He also says the fi rm assesses gardening leave on an individual basis. ‘I think they wished to be difficult to deter people from going. They don’t want to tell you [what date] you’re going, but they also won’t give you gardening leave. You’re in a difficult period as the work trails off because clients don’t see much point in giving you new instructions,’ says a former partner. But just because stringent measures have been placed on departing partners doesn’t erase the fact that they’ve left, taking with them clients, associates and revenue. The fi rm’s fi nance practice has been particularly badly hit. The year has seen the exits of Black, energy trading partner Brett Hillis, real estate fi nance partner James Linforth, Roberts and project fi nance partner Howard Barrie. Real estate fi nance partners Hill and Hayward-Surry are expected to leave for Stephenson Harwood (to join Linforth) but a date has yet to be confi rmed. ‘There were a number of departures last year and we wish them well,’ comments Holland. ‘Finance has always been a major pillar of the fi rm. The practice is always under review. We’re looking under the bonnet and doing a full analysis.’ Part of the EMEA strategy review is to return the firm’s finance practice to a more prominent position within SNR Denton. Holland says he isn’t concerned about the impact on large banking client relationships that the departures may have because they’re so institutional (the relationship with The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) dates back to Wilde Sapte). But the truth of the matter is that partners like McAlpine and Black, who traditionally managed the RBS relationship are now gone. ‘There are very few bank panels that we are not on,’ says Holland. Indeed, the firm has

PROFIT MARGINS 2011 Wragge & Co

Nabarro

Addleshaw Goddard

Beachcroft

SNR Denton

35

25

21

19

13 Source: LB100

relationships with all the major clearing banks and large foreign banks, including BNP Paribas, Investec and Goldman Sachs. The firm also sits on the Lloyds, Barclays and HSBC panels. The 40-partner practice in EMEA contributes roughly £35m, or 22%, to the fi rm’s overall EMEA revenue. ‘We’ve slightly contracted in fi nance,’ admits Holland. ‘We’ve lost our focus a bit and so now is the time for us to regroup and re-energise. The potential we have in this fi rm is enormous.’

36 Legal Business March 2012

LB222 p28-37 SNR Denton.indd 36

1/1/70 01:11:39


SNR DENTON

‘There is a real confidence in the leaders of this firm at all levels. There is a clear vision now.’ Christopher McGee-Osbourne, SNR Denton

The biggest cash cow for the fi nance practice in the years leading up to the global fi nancial crisis was the fi rm’s restructuring practice. Andrews, who was seen as the City’s leading specialist, led the group at the fi rm for more than two decades. But his 2011 retirement is thought to have had a major impact on the fi rm’s business. While a number of mid-market instructions helped to keep restructuring partners busy, the firm failed to land roles on some of the biggest

mandates, losing out to firms like Linklaters and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer. Alongside fi nance, Ransley and Jones have earmarked the fi rm’s energy, infrastructure and project fi nance, and dispute resolution practices for growth. But the disputes group suffered from the exit of McAlpine to Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and Morris to Norton Rose also in 2011. Much like its restructuring practice, the fi rm’s litigation business never really took off during the recession. Some attribute this to a hesitance by t mghe banks to litigate during the difficult periods. The fi rm did have a few wins. In early 2011, current litigation chief Richard Caird took on the British Bankers’ Association for the Financial Services Authority in a judicial review launched by the banking advocacy group over payment protection insurance. Caird was successful and the High Court case was dismissed.

The fi rm is also acting for A&E Television networks in an UK trade mark dispute. While many have left, a few have joined. Part of the new strategy is to once again place the fi rm on the recruitment map. The biggest hire for SNR Denton’s London office came in the shape of ex-Linklaters partner Edward Hickman, who joined the firm in early 2012. The firm also took energy partner Mark Cheney out of Linklaters in August 2011, and Humphrey Douglas from legacy firm Barlow Lyde & Gilbert to boost its energy offering in the City. ‘We’ve got a compelling story to tell after year one,’ explains Portnoy. ‘Among other things, we fi nd ourselves with net gain, including 100 new lateral partners this year. We’ve also opened new offices in Hong Kong and Beijing.’

INTEGRATION ACROSS THE NATIONS ‘This is a turnaround story,’ says the EMEA chief executive with confidence. He is expecting profits to increase significantly for the 2011/12 fi nancial year. When asked by how much, Jones responds: ‘Why don’t I give it to you using adjectives rather than numbers. We are not just expecting a mild recovery, but we are expecting significant double-digit growth in profits.’ When we meet, the fi rm still has three months of trading time before the end of the fi nancial year and geo-political situations still look as if they could get out of hand (the Arab Spring continues to rage, the eurozone continues to teeter on the brink and the UK economy continues to lag). But one thing is for sure. The combined SNR Denton is feeling much better. ‘Culturally the fit has been great. My fi rst impression was that we all seemed to get on really well. There is a nice atmosphere about the place and we have some great lawyers,’ says Jeremy Cohen, who co-leads the fi rm’s global corporate practice. As the partners prepare for another trip to Orlando in May to celebrate their success – and indeed the fi rm has had a number of successes – the road ahead is not smooth. It probably helps that the two sides of the business are connected through a Swiss verein legal structure (and don’t share profits), so if one side’s profits plummet, the other side doesn’t feel it. But for now at least, everyone is happy to be together. LB emma.sadowski@legalease.co.uk

March 2012 Legal Business 37

LB222 p28-37 SNR Denton.indd 37

1/1/70 01:12:22


_LB222 SNR Denton