Definitive member of the Magic Circle and one of the 10 largest
firms in the UK by revenue, Slaughters is something of an anomaly.
It does not have the gigantic international footprint one might
expect from a Magic Circle firm, it is not a member of the UK Big
Four and it gathers its impressive yearly takings from just four
offices. A mere 750 lawyers do the firm's bidding worldwide, and
yet it remains one of the most profitable and respected firms in
Small footprint, large impact
Today's Slaughters grew out of the firm founded in 1889 by
William Slaughter and William May, two associates who had departed
Ashurst to launch their own practice. The duo benefited from top
clients right from the outset, with Schroder and Company, the Home
and Colonial stores and Baron Emile d'Erlanger on their roster.
Alfred Nobel and Joseph Pulitzer were added to the books at the
start of the 20th century, while by the 1930s, Slaughter and May
had gathered a greater number of merchant banking clients than any
other firm. Barings, Rothschilds and Morgan Grenfell were among the
leading banks and brought a considerable amount of business.
Responding to growth in its international business, in 1974,
Slaughters became the first firm to set up shop in Hong Kong. (The
firm also opened an office in Paris that year; it was shuttered in
2010.) By the 1980s, Slaughters was an undisputed leader, with
immense activity advising on the privatisations of British Airways,
British Telecom, British Aerospace, British Gas, BP, Jaguar and
British Steel that were carried out under the government of
Margaret Thatcher. The firm continues to serve many of these
clients, as well as the British Government, today. Slaughters
regularly appears at the top of the Hemscott Law Firms Rankings,
which lists firms by number of FTSE 100 clients. Slaughter and May
opened a Brussels office in 1989 and set up shop in Beijing in
Can't slow this firm down
Slaughter and May boasts strength across the board, particularly
in competition and tax matters, but when it comes down to brass
tacks, big-ticket corporate work is the firm's mainstay. Dividing
its corporate work into three divisions-mergers and acquisitions,
corporate and commercial, and finance-the firm advises buyers and
sellers on high-value deals, often with a cross-border component.
More recently, during the downturn of 2007-09, Slaughters shifted
focus to finance, with restructurings and capital markets work
compensating for the relative drought in M&A activity.
In some respects, in fact, the recession proved a boon to the
firm's bottom line, as Slaughters got in on the credit-crunch
feeding frenzy, counselling the UK Government on several
high-profile matters, including the nationalisation of Northern
Rock, the Treasury's £37 billion bailout of the banking system and
bailout deal with Lloyds, and the Government's efforts to reduce
the pension payout of former RBS chief executive, Fred Goodwin. The
firm also advised Morgan Stanley in connection with Royal Bank of
Scotland's $2.34 billion sale of its stake in Bank of China, and
Castle Holdco, the holding company for Countrywide, in connection
with Countrywide's restructuring. As Christopher Saul, the firm's
senior partner, acknowledged in a January 2009 interview with
The Times, "Last year was actually busy for us. In some
ways, the financial crisis played to the firm's strengths."
High price for high tech
Slaughter and May advised software company Autonomy on its $11.7
billion takeover by Hewlett-Packard in August 2011-a deal touted as
the largest-ever in the technology sector, which pulled in teams
from a number of top firms in both the UK and the US. The
acquisition is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
Among other large-scale M&A deals in 2011, the firm acted
for the John Wood Group on the $2.8 billion sale of its Well
Support Division to General Electric in April 2011, just months
after the firm had advised GE on its £800 million offer for
Wellstream Holdings plc. The acquisition of Well Support Division's
businesses expands GE's drilling and logging capabilities.
Wash, dry and fold
Slaughter and May has handled a number of matters for Unilever
in recent months, including the €672 million sale of its Sanex
personal care business to Colgate-Palmolive; the $215 million
purchase from Colgate-Palmolive of its Fab, Lavomatic and Val
laundry detergent brands; and the settlement of an investigation by
the European Commission into the consumer detergents sector.
Slaughters has also been helping long-time client Aviva in the
disposition of its non-core assets, including the sale of its
roadside rescue business, RAC, to The Carlyle Group for £1 billion
in June 2011. The firm was also on hand when the insurance giant
sold off a 15 per cent stake in Dutch subsidiary Delta Lloyd for
£381 million earlier in the year.
In April 2011, Slaughter and May advised long-time client
Arsenal in connection with American businessman Stan Kroenke's £731
million bid to buy the football club. A few months later, Arsenal
called on Slaughters again to advise on the transfers of two top
players: the £29 million sale of captain Cesc Fàbregas to FC
Barcelona and the move of midfielder Samir Nasri to Manchester
City, a deal reportedly worth £25 million. The firm had also
advised the Board of Liverpool Football Club on that club's
controversial sale to the owners of the Boston Red Sox in 2010.
In 2011, the private M&A side seemed to come alive, with a
plethora of deals reported in the first two quarters, including the
privatisation of Bahamas' national telecom company, in which
Slaughter and May advised Cable & Wireless Communications on
its acquisition of a majority interest in Bahamas
Telecommunications Company Limited for $210 million.
Lawyers for lawyers
In dispute resolution, fellow Magic Circle firm Linklaters has
turned to Slaughters to advise it in connection with a negligence
action brought by Credit Suisse; the investment bank's claims stems
from advice given by a Linklaters partner with respect to a
transaction with the now-bankrupt Italian dairy giant Parmalat.