This article reveals the results of the 2012 Private Equity Super League. The Super League encompasses the best firms according to our PLC Which lawyer? research, and highlights those firms which have the widest breadth and depth of recommendations in private equity (see box, Methodology).
The tables are based on the most recent rankings by PLC Which lawyer? for private equity which can be found here, and are correct as of 31 January 2012.
It has been a tough time for the private equity industry since the era of the mega-buyouts of five years ago. The sector is under more scrutiny and the onset of the financial crisis has seen a raft of new regulatory measures placed on the operation of funds. Leveraged financings have become more difficult to arrange and competition for deals from strategic buyers has increased markedly. Fundraisings have also taken longer to close, if at all, and limited partner investors have placed a much greater emphasis on a fund's previous level of return on investment, which has made it difficult for new entrants.
Nonetheless, the private equity industry still continues to churn out a healthy level of deals and work in the legal marketplace, although there has been a consolidation, if not strengthening, of market positioning by the leading firms. The last few years has also seen the emergence of more US firms as global players, and in London, they have had great success in eating into the market share of the English firms for fund formation work. The English firms, in the meantime, have struggled to do the same on the other side of the Atlantic. As investment and activity in the industry consolidates around a smaller group of funds that have emerged over the last few years with healthy investor returns, the effect on the legal market will be a smaller number of larger, global players that seek to service the entire life cycle needs of their funds' clients.
It is against this backdrop that the 2012 Private Equity Super League is published. It highlights the top 15 practices with global breadth and depth in fund formation, buyouts and leveraged financings and is based on the recently published PLC Which lawyer? private equity research. There is a good balance of the number of US and English firms highlighted, with eight from the US and six from England. Within this make up, three of the top five practices are US-based, highlighting the great successes these firms have had in ramping up their global capacity in recent years
Clifford Chance comes out on top of this year’s private equity Super League. The PE sector has long been a key focus for the firm globally, and this focus permeates through its entire network, with recommendations in an impressive fifteen jurisdictions, more than any of its nearest competitors in the top ten. London is the key hub, where it stands head and shoulders above its competitors on buyouts in a highly competitive market. The firm’s excellent banking pedigree gives it unparalleled depth on leveraged financings, whether it be for advisers, the banks or the sponsors. It has traditionally been viewed as the market leader for fund formation in Europe, but it suffered a blow last year when the bulk of its partners left for a US competitor. Nonetheless, the group is still active on fundraisings and the firm has been quick to start rebuilding this part of its offering. Its European spread is impressive, with all of its European offices ranked; while its Asian offering from Hong Kong has long held a dominant position in the market. The strength of its Middle Eastern offices, with Dubai as its hub, is unquestionable, acting for a mixture of international funds looking into the region, as well as a small handful of local funds. Its client roster reads like a who’s who of the key players in the industry, with strong relationships with the likes of CVC Capital Partners, 3i, Permira and The Carlyle Group.
Coming in at a close second place is Kirkland & Ellis. Best known for its fantastic mid-market funds practice, the firm has had great success in exporting its longstanding strengths and relationships in the US to Europe and Asia. However, its international offices are not merely support outposts of its US client base. The firm has genuine and highly-regarded capacity in London, Munich and Hong Kong, with the offices generating work through their own reputations, while also benefitting from the strength of the firm's global relationships with the likes of Bain Capital, Golden Gate Capital and Sun Capital, to name a few. Its Hong Kong office is the network’s most recent addition to the private equity practice, but it already has made significant inroads on fund formation advice, as well as building strong relationships with sovereign wealth funds. In London, Kirkland & Ellis was one of the first US firms to invest significantly in building critical mass on fund formation, where it is now seen as a market leader in Europe, and it has more recently sought to bolster its buyouts practice with the hire of two promising partners from Ashurst. Its financing capabilities, acting for funds as borrowers or mezzanine lenders, add a rounded dimension to the team that cannot be found in many of its US or even its UK rivals. Its US practice is truly nationwide, with excellent capabilities in its home in Chicago, as well as in New York and San Francisco. It has leading buyouts practices in these three key centres, alongside strong fund formation, debt finance and a leading global secondaries practice.
Simpson Thacher & Bartlett occupies third place. Arguably more so than any other firm, Simpson Thacher is closely associated with the work emanating out of the world's leading mega-buyout funds, with KKR and Blackstone often emerging as the firm's two best known global clients. As with all the leading US private equity players, the firm covers all the bases in the life cycle of a private equity fund: fund formation, buyouts and financing, but it does so with unparalleled bench strength and sophistication. New York continues to be the hub of the practice, although its West Coast practice through its Los Angeles and Silicon Valley offices is as prolific in deal-making and has excellent fund formation capabilities. While some may criticise the firm's private equity expansion into London and Hong Kong as having been too focused on serving the needs of its global relationship clients, it does not take away from the fact that these two offices can boast some of the market's leading practitioners in fund formation and buyouts, who bring with them their own book of regional, as well as global business. The firm does not aim to be the biggest international player by size, but is focused on quality and high-end work, whether this is a mega cross-border buyout, or a complex mid-market deal.
In fourth place is Weil Gotshal & Manges, which has seen strong international growth in recent years. Most recently, its London practice, which for a number of years has had a highly rated buyouts practice, pulled off what some would call a coup when it brought in a four partner market-leading team from Clifford Chance in 2011. This gives the firm critical mass and expertise to target new fund formation mandates, as well as service the needs of existing firm-wide clients, whether they be GPs, infrastructure funds or sovereign funds. This addition also complements an already impressive pan-European buyouts practice, with market-leading strength in Central and Eastern European deals, as well as excellent practices out of Paris and Germany. Its Hong Kong practice has also been growing in stature both in transactional and fund formation work following recent investment. In the US, the bulk of the firm's practice is found along the East Coast in New York and Boston, where both its fund formation and transactional capabilities are held in very high regard by a broad array of mega-, mid-market and sovereign funds, including Thomas H Lee Partners and Advent International.
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer's fifth place positioning is largely down to its impressive European buyouts practice. The London and Germany axis is key, but these practices are supported by incredibly strong Benelux and Paris offices. The strength of the firm's global M&A practice sometimes overshadows the profile of its private equity work, but this should not take away from the fact that it regularly receives excellent mandates from the likes of CVC Capital Partners and Cinven. Buyouts are the main focus within the private equity space - it has credible fund formation capabilities in London, but it lacks the volume of fundraisings seen at some of its peers. In the Middle East, the firm has gradually been building up its capabilities in this field through lateral hires and partner relocations, and it is now one of a handful of firms with an established track record on fund investments. In Asia too the firm has an active deals practice, advising the likes of Warburg Pincus on their regional investments.
Closely identified with the private equity sector in Europe, SJ Berwin comes in at sixth. Fund formation has long been the practice's forté, with strong capabilities in its London, Paris, Madrid and German offices. In recent years, the London-based fund formation team has suffered from attrition to US firms looking to grow their practices in Europe, which is testament to the quality of the lawyers produced by the practice. However, the firm does still have some good individuals, and the return of Jonathan Blake to fee earning work will bolster the practice. Despite its excellent relationship with a raft of European funds, the firm has sometimes struggled to transfer this reputation into the buyouts sphere, which some market sources have suggested is a weakness of the practice. Despite this perception, the buyouts practice in London, Paris and Germany is solid, particularly in the mid-market space. Its Paris office, in particular, stands head and shoulders over the competition in this space, while London gets a good steady deal flow in a highly competitive market.
Debevoise & Plimpton's global strength lies in its market-leading fund formation capabilities, with genuinely solid presences in the financial centres of New York, London and Hong Kong, which are a key attraction to its funds clients. The firm's roster of clients speaks for itself, with the likes of Providence Equity Partners and Clayton Dubilier & Rice just a couple of the high-profile funds it gets regular fundraising and transactional work from. Its London office is notable for the strength of its limited partner practice, which translates into some key mandates on the secondaries market for clients such as HarbourVest Partners. Along with its fund formation strength, its impressive deals practice cannot be overlooked: its New York team is a market leader. Its Moscow offering is also noteworthy.
Linklaters comes in at eighth and is rated for its particularly strong geographical breadth across Europe, with recommendations in all the major economies, as well as highly-respected practices in Scandinavia and the Iberian Peninsula. This is supplemented by active practices out of Dubai and Hong Kong, as well as noteworthy fund formation capability in New York; the latter feature making it unique among its London-based peers. Its buyouts practice in London has continued to grow in stature, with mandates from the likes of Terra Firma and Montagu Private Equity, while in Asia the firm advises major funds such as Carlyle and China Investment Corporation on their key investments.
Coming in at ninth is Latham & Watkins, whose key strengths are buyouts and leveraged financings. The firm has strong relationships with mega-funds, including with The Carlyle Group out of its New York office and Apollo Global Management. It has nationwide capabilities, with strong transactional presences on both the East and West Coasts. It has recently cemented its East Coast offering by opening a Boston office with strong practitioners on both buyouts and venture capital work. In Europe, its French and German practices are prolific in the higher value buyouts space, while its investments in the Middle East have helped cement key relationships with regional sovereign wealth funds. Its debt finance practice, backed up by incredible high yield capabilities, is a key feature in its private equity offering, with London and New York the two key centres.
Rounding off the top ten is White & Case. The strength of its European buyouts practice is a defining feature of the firm's private equity capabilities, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe and in Scandinavia. In the CEE, the firm has strong relationships with leading regional funds, while its Scandinavian practice is defined by the strength of its relationship with Nordic Capital, which also uses the firm in transactions outside the region. Its US practice is based in New York, where it advises an array of funds such as CVC Capital and PineBridge. Its buyouts practice here is complemented by the strength of its leveraged financing capabilities both on the sponsor and lender side. Paris also deserves special mention, particularly for the strength of its practice on the mid-market space.
The expansive network Baker & McKenzie has is a key factor in its inclusion in the Super League. However, the number of offices is not the only reason the firm features this year; it couples international breadth with pockets of excellence in particular regions, including Australia, where it has an impressive list of clients for buyouts work. Its Singapore hub is also notable for its regional deal-making strength, working in close conjunction with the rest of its Asia-Pacific operations. The firm is also a good choice for Central and Eastern European transactions, including Russian-related work. Transactional work remains the key focus of the private equity team, but it should be noted that it does have notable fund formation capabilities in London, where it has a good roster of limited partner investors on its client books, while Paris has a prolific secondaries practice through its relationship with AXA Private Equity.
Allen & Overy's private equity practice, in twelfth position, benefits from the firm's strong international network, and it can boast strong track records in Western and Eastern Europe, Asia and the Middle East. It is also fairly unique among other Super League firms for having a good practice in Australia, which continues to have a vibrant private equity scene, and in the Benelux countries, where it is rated as one of the top players. Naturally, the firm's banking prowess gives the firm an edge in representing banks and funds in leveraged financings.
Ropes & Gray comes in at thirteenth. Long regarded as a strong player in the US from its Boston and New York hubs, like many of its US peers, international expansion has been the defining feature of the practice over the past few years. While it has had a London office for a number of years, its profile was limited mainly to the financing elements of buyout transactions. However, in the last few months, it has brought in serious fund formation capabilities, and the team has hit the ground running with a raft of instructions, including a recent mandate for Nordic Capital. The practice is certainly one to watch in the coming years as it aims to emulate the success of other US firms in offering a full-service private equity offering. In Asia, the firm has made great in-roads in the buyouts space, where it has been upgraded one notch to highly recommended thanks to excellent market feedback from peers and from funds with significant Asian interests. Part of the firm's international expansion has also been down to some of its key relationships with clients such as Bain Capital and Silver Lake, as these clients increase the volume of international deals.
In fourteenth position is Ashurst, which makes it into the table thanks to its European private equity capabilities. The general downturn of private equity during the financial crisis did impact the firm's market position, particularly in London, which was coupled with some key figures moving into management, retiring or leaving for competitors. Nonetheless, the firm's brand still has resonance within the private equity industry, with London boasting relationships with clients such as Cinven, Apax and Candover. Its push into the Asia Pacific area, including its combination with Blake Dawson in Australia, gives the firm added reach in a region with buoyant private equity activity.
Rounding off the Super League is Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton in fifteenth place. Its positioning in the table belies the firm's standing in the industry. New York is the hub of the firm's global practice and it is from here that its renowned international relationship with mega-fund TPG emanates. While providing the practice with a steady workflow through its array of international deals, the depth and strength of this relationship often overshadows the firm's work with other funds. Nonetheless, with international capability in Europe, Asia and North America, the firm is a strong choice for complex transactional work.
Number of recommended lawyers
Belgium, China and Hong Kong, Czech Republic, England, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Spain and the United Arab Emirates
China and Hong Kong, England, Germany and USA (National, Chicago, New York and San Francisco and Silicon Valley)
China and Hong Kong, England, Japan and USA (National, New York and San Francisco and Silicon Valley)
China and Hong Kong, Czech Republic, England, France, Germany, Hungary, Poland and USA (National, Boston, New York and San Francisco and Silicon Valley)
Austria, Belgium, China and Hong Kong, England, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Russia, Spain and the United Arab Emirates
England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain
China and Hong Kong, England, Germany, Russia and USA (National and New York)
Belgium, Brazil, China and Hong Kong, England, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden, the United Arab Emirates and USA (National)
England, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain and USA (National, Boston, New York, San Francisco and Silicon Valley)
Belgium, China and Hong Kong, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Russia, Sweden and USA (New York)
Australia, Belgium, China and Hong Kong, Colombia, Czech Republic, England, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland and Ukraine
Australia, Belgium, China and Hong Kong, Czech Republic, England, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland and the United Arab Emirates
China and Hong Kong, England, Japan and USA (National, Boston and New York)
Belgium, England, France, Germany, Spain and the United Arab Emirates
Belgium, China and Hong Kong, England, France, Italy, Russia and USA (National and New York)
The Private Equity Super League is based on the PLC Which lawyer? research conducted for the Private Equity and Venture Capital multi-jurisdictional guides 2012/13 (see www.practicallaw.com/mjg). The rankings in this article are based on the research as at 31 January 2012.
1. Basis of the PLC Which lawyer? research: our team of researchers speak to the leading legal practices throughout the year, as well as with clients who have recently instructed lawyers, to identify the best known specialists/practices across the key corporate and commercial areas globally. We monitor and analyse recent deal/case information across these areas to identify the firms most active in the market, as well as conducting peer review exercises among the leading practices. On the basis of this research, we rank lawyers and law firms for their expertise in insurance and reinsurance. For a full explanation of the research and practice areas/subcategories covered, please visit www.practicallaw.com/whichlawyer.
2. Private equity and venture capital practice areas included in the research: Private equity/venture capital; private equity: fund formation; private equity: debt finance; private equity: buyouts; venture capital: private equity: secondary transactions; venture capital; and venture capital fund formation.
3. Law firms are ranked in each practice area as "leading", "highly recommended", "recommended" or "recognised" in the jurisdictions in which they have relevant capability. Individual lawyers with strong reputations in this sector are singled out as "endorsed".
4. The Private Equity Super League results are calculated by aggregating the results of law firm and lawyer recommendations in all of the above practice areas in over 38 jurisdictions, with different points allocated to the level of recommendation. Firm recommendations are given more weighting than individual lawyer rankings. Firm and lawyer recommendations received in England, France, Germany and USA (national and New York categories) are given more weighting than other jurisdictions. To qualify for inclusion in the Super League, a firm must receive recommendations in a minimum of two countries.
5. Firms are ranked by total score and then by number of recommended lawyers, so if firms receive identical scores they are ranked in accordance with which firm has the most recommended lawyers.
6. Policy on mergers: points are aggregated if a full merger has taken place before the calculations for the Super Leagues commence. Correspondent and alliance firms are not included.
7. Firm names are abbreviated to those used in the home jurisdiction.