Debevoise & Plimpton LLP (Europe)

The Scoop

Debevoise & Plimpton LLP ranks as one of New York's most powerful law firms and one of the most profitable in the world, representing such iconic clients as American Express, Air France-KLM, Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan Chase, LVMH Moët Hennessy/Louis Vuitton and Yahoo!. The firm's 700+ lawyers represent clients in all principal practice areas, including complex acquisition and financing transactions, restructuring, litigation and arbitration, and tax. In 2009, the firm celebrated its 20th anniversary in London.

Good genes and healthy figures

Eli Whitney Debevoise-a direct descendent of the inventor of the cotton gin-and William Stevenson founded their firm in New York in 1931. Debevoise wasn't the only one with an interesting background; Stevenson had been a member of the American gold-winning 1924 Olympic 1,600-meter relay team. The first of the firm's six foreign offices was opened in Paris in 1964, handling matters pertaining to French, UK and US law. The London office was established in 1989. The firm opened a Moscow office in 1997 and moved into Frankfurt in 2001. Debevoise has also had a presence in Asia since the 1990s where it maintains offices in Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Debevoise's corporate department remains its largest, with M&A representing the most significant portion of the work. The firm has had a hand in many large-scale European deals in the last few years, including advising Clayton, Dubilier & Rice, a longstanding client, in its £417 million acquisition of Bodycote Testing Group; acting for Benfield Group in its £935 million sale to Aon Corporation; advising Uralkali on its $24 billion merger with rival fertilizer producer Silvinit; Air France-KLM, in its €22 million acquisition of a 25 per cent stake in Italian partner Alitalia; and Verizon Wireless in its $28.1 billion acquisition of Alltel Corporation.

London's one-stop shop

In London, more than half of the office's 90 lawyers are English-qualified. The office focuses on a core subset of its worldwide practices, working closely with Debevoise's other European offices to represent European and American clients in acquisitions and joint ventures in the UK and throughout continental Europe, global offerings and other securities transactions, private equity funds, financings and restructurings, and international tax planning.

Litigation represents another firm strength, and Debevoise has geared up to make its London litigation group a one-stop shop. Former UK Attorney General Lord Goldsmith QC, a partner and the firm's chair of European and Asian litigation, leads a practice that includes solicitor-advocates and former barristers who can ensure that clients are represented by the same team from initial instruction through to advocacy in court or before an arbitration tribunal.

Debevoise's litigation practice has particular expertise in conducting major corporate investigations, and the firm has formed an official international corporate investigations and defence practice, made up of top litigation lawyers across the firm's offices, including Lord Goldsmith. The white-collar investigations group has represented some big names, including engineering giant Siemens in connection with a worldwide investigation into corrupt payments to government officials, and Forest Laboratories, in the settlement of civil and criminal investigations and related litigation concerning the pharma company's marketing of Celexa, Lexapro and Levothroid.

Recent News

Music to their ears

Notable M&A work in the spring of 2011 includes Debevoise's representation of Access Industries in an agreement to acquire Warner Music Group for $3.3 billion. The deal includes all of WMG's recorded music and publishing businesses. Access won the auction by outbidding at least 10 other investors, including Sony Music Entertainment; BMG Rights Management, a joint venture between Bertelsmann and Kohlberg Kravis & Roberts; and Yucaipa Companies, the private equity firm founded by American billionaire Ron Burkle.

Other recent deals include advising Hertz Global Holdings in its offer to purchase Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group for $2.08 billion. The firm also advised US-based Hanover Insurance Group in its £313 million public bid for Chaucer Holdings Plc, a UK-based specialist insurance company that underwrites business at Lloyd's; and helped credit provider Park Square Capital, LLP form an €850 million mezzanine debt fund, Park Square Capital Partners II.

A $20 billion Plan B

In the summer of 2010, Debevoise represented AIG in the sale of its Asian-based life insurance unit to British insurance company Prudential. Debevoise initially secured an offer of $35.5 billion, but Prudential shareholders balked at the price. A new offer of $30 billion was made, which AIG rejected. Debevoise advised AIG on an alternative plan, an IPO that raised more than $20 billion, the largest insurance IPO to date.

And a $750 million discount

Debevoise was recognised with an "Arbitration Win of the Year" in 2011 by Global Arbitration Review for its work on behalf of Hyundai Heavy Industries, the world's largest shipbuilder, in a dispute with an Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund over a shareholder agreement. An arbitration tribunal in Singapore ordered the International Petroleum Investment Corp to sell its 70 per cent stake in Hyundai Oilbank, a Korean petroleum refining and marketing company, to HHI for $2.25 billion, a discounted price representing a $750 million savings for Debevoise's client.

Victory in buyback battle

In February 2011, a litigation team led by Lord Goldsmith QC won a victory for Norilsk Nickel in a long-running shareholder dispute with Russian aluminium giant Rusal. Debevoise persuaded a Caribbean court to set aside an injunction against Corbiere, an indirect subsidiary of Norilsk. Only a few weeks earlier the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court of the High Court of Justice of St. Christopher & Nevis, Nevis Circuit, had granted the injunction to Rusal, which sought to prevent Corbiere from completing share and ADR purchases as part of Norilsk's $3.5 billion share buyback. The court lifted the injunction and awarded costs and damages against Rusal.

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Debevoise & Plimpton LLP (Europe)

Tower 42
Old Broad Street
London EC2N 1HQ
Phone: +44 (0)20 7786 9000


  • Employer Type: Private
  • London managing partner: James C. Scoville
  • Total No. Attorneys 2011: 700

Major Office Locations

  • Shanghai, China
  • Washington, DC
  • New York, NY
  • Moscow, Russia
  • London, United Kingdom
  • Paris, France
  • Frankfurt, Germany
  • Hong Kong, Hong Kong
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