Allen & Overy stands as not only one of the UK's most
prestigious law firms-a pillar of the vaunted Magic Circle-but also
one of the largest firms in the world in terms of revenue. In 2008,
A&O joined the small bracket pulling in more than £1 billion.
Though finance may be the firm's bread and butter, Allen &
Overy is also known for capital markets work, corporate law and
Global positioning systems
Firm founders George Allen and Thomas Overy opened shop in 1930,
intending to build a commercial practice. But it was Allen's
representation of King Edward VIII during his 1936 abdication to
marry American Wallis Simpson that really made the firm's name (at
the time, no scandal was bigger). The firm grew in the post-WWII
years, and by 1960, the firm had become one of London's most
prominent legal shops. Allen & Overy gained renown for banking
expertise, extending beyond London to follow the trajectory of the
global banking industry.
In the 1970s, the firm made inroads in the burgeoning field of
intellectual property and took advantage of the increasingly global
nature of finance, working on early syndicated loan and Eurobond
transactions and doing business far from its home base in London.
By the mid-1990s the firm earned more revenue from its non-UK
clients than its domestic clients.
A legacy of superlatives
Historic matters include taking part in the City of London's
first-ever hostile takeover; drafting the first-ever Eurobond;
advising on Nasdaq's audacious bid for the London Stock Exchange in
2007; and arranging €55 billion in financing for BHP Billiton, part
of a €147 billion bid for mining company Rio Tinto-a deal that
ranks as one of the largest financings ever. The firm also advised
Teighmore Construction Limited in connection with the construction
of The Shard, which will be Europe's tallest building.
Sailing through the storm
The last 15 years saw the firm morph into a truly international
practice, with outlets in all major financial centres, and increase
its visibility in emerging markets via stand-alone offices, mergers
and local alliances. During the 2008-09 economic maelstrom, Allen
& Overy lost 9 per cent of its staff as part of a £44 million
restructuring plan, but since then it has been smooth sailing. In
2010, the firm added four new pins to its global map, raiding the
offices of Aussie firm Clayton Utz to set up shop in Sydney,
followed by new outposts in Perth, Qatar and Jakarta. The following
year, A&O extended its best-friends referral agreement with
Indian firm Trilegal, beefed up its European disputes practice by
picking up a three-partner litigation team from Herbert Smith's
Paris office, and announced the openings of offices in Washington
DC and Casablanca. Today, more than 60 per cent of the firm's
revenue is generated outside the UK.
Erin go bust
In 2010, A&O advised long-time client Bank of Ireland on its
e3.4 billion fundraising. Later that year, the firm was chosen by
the Treasury to advise the Government on its £3.2 billion loan to
Ireland-winning the mandate over Slaughter and May, which has been
handling most of the Treasury's big-ticket bailout work since the
onset of the financial crisis. Slaughters isn't the only Magic
Circle peer that Allen & Overy has displaced in recent months.
When National Grid announced a pared-down legal panel in January
2011, A&O had taken the place of Freshfields as one of just two
corporate advisors to the utility company.
Also on the Irish front, in early 2011, Allen & Overy
announced that it would move the bulk of its back-office positions
from London to Belfast; the firm hopes to house 300 employees,
including 50 fee earners, in the support services centre by 2014.
Funding will come, in part, from the regional development agency
Invest Northern Ireland, which will give A&O £2.5 million for
the new centre. The move could affect up to 155 support staff in
In the deep
In April 2011, a cross-disciplinary team of A&O lawyers from
its restructuring, finance, tax, litigation and corporate practices
assisted private equity fund Pamplona in the $550 million
recapitalisation of KCA DEUTAG, an international drilling and
engineering services contractor. Concrete was also poured in Baja,
Mexico, to start construction on a copper mine called Boleo; the
firm advised Baja Mining Corp on the $858 million Greenfield
project, the financing for which was recognised as the 2010
"Americas Mining Deal of the Year" by Project Finance
In February, the firm represented BP in its $7.2 billion deal
with India's Reliance Industries to hunt for oil and gas in new
deepwater. Reliance is India's largest private company, and BP has
been on the make for new partners since its major blowout and spill
in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. That same month, the firm advised
Shell in connection with a $1 billion agreement with Vitol Group
and Helios Investment Partners to establish two new joint ventures
involving Shell's shareholdings in 14 African countries.
Titans loosen their grip
A&O teamed up with Hogan Lovells to advise Rupert Murdoch's
News Corp on its ill-fated effort to take over British Sky
Broadcasting. After News Corp received competition clearance from
the European Commission, A&O helped get the OK from the UK
Government in March 2011. But by July, amid the growing "Hackgate"
scandal and investigation into phone-hacking by Murdoch's News
of the World, News Corp withdrew its bid for BSkyB. Soon
afterward, the firm sent some of its lawyers on secondment to News
International to help the in-house team cope with the continuing
fallout from the scandal.
Meanwhile, A&O has been helping another UK giant let go.
Retail giant Tesco announced in 2006 that it would begin divesting
properties from its portfolio. A&O has advised on four
transactions since then, counselling its client as it seeks deals
in the structured finance market. In February 2011 the firm advised
joint lead arrangers HSBC and Goldman Sachs on Tesco's latest
commercial mortgage-backed security financing, valued at £685
million, which involved 20 stores and a mixed-use retail mall.