Stephenson Harwood

  • Overview
THE SCOOP

Stephenson Harwood is well known for its expertise in real estate, financial services, transportation and energy matters, and in recent years has concentrated its efforts on growth both at home and in emerging Asian markets.  The firm has considerable strength in AIM matters, and took top place for AIM listings in 2006 and 2007.  In 2008, the firm was awarded the Legal Education & Training Group’s top award for innovation in learning and development.

Hong Kong history

Beginning its long history in 1875, Stephenson Harwood was originally founded as Harwood & Stephenson. The firm was set up by Henry Stephenson and solicitor William Harwood on the latter’s return to London after a period of practice in China.  Thanks to Harwood’s activities abroad, the firm had a significant eastern client from day oneâ€"the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporationâ€"and HSBC continues to be one of the firm’s main clients today.

In 1920, the then-renamed Stephenson Harwood merged with Tatham & Lousada and became Stephenson Harwood & Tatham until 1977, when it shortened its name to become Stephenson Harwood once again.  The Asian connection has remained a significant part of the firm’s identity, and more than one quarter of its staff operate out of Asia.  Hong Kong is home to the firm’s second-largest office, and a joint venture partnership with local firm Lo & Lo has seen Stephenson Harwood active in the region for 25 years.

Still growing

By financial year 2007-2008, Stephenson Harwood had enjoyed five years of significant financial growth, with net profit quadrupling over this period to reach £26.6 million.  In June 2008, the firm reported that global turnover had risen by 19 per cent, up to £85.3 million.  Contributing the greatest portion to this increase were the firm’s commercial litigation and corporate departments, which each saw a 40 per cent increase in revenue.

By November 2008, however, this period of significant growth had stalled, and overall revenue rose by just 4 per cent for the half-year, to stand at £40 million.  That the firm did in fact increase revenue may be attributed in no small part to the efforts of the firm’s overseas offices, which brought in 25 per cent of total turnover for that half-year period.  Moreover, the firm has so far avoided the redundancies that have hit so many of its peers.

Ready, AIM …

Stephenson Harwood’s AIM practice is one of its key strengths, thanks particularly to the firm’s presence in several emerging Asian markets.  Of all Asian companies listed on AIM between 2006 and 2008, more than a quarter of them were advised by Stephenson Harwood.  Among the transactions the firm has acted on was the first-ever listing by Bollywood, when it listed a fund called The Indian Film Company in 2007.

In October 2008, the firm carried out a double AIM listing for two Asian companiesâ€"Ninety Plc and RedHot Media Internationalâ€"in the space of a week.  For Ninety Plc, the transaction involved a reverse takeover and the readmission of the firm to the London AIM under the new name, Sorbic International Plc.  The teams for both listings were led by Singapore-based corporate partner Matthew Gorman.

On the property side, Stephenson Harwood advised St Martins Property Investments, part of the Kuwait Investment Authority, on a £400 million acquisition in June 2008.  The property acquired was Willis Building, a recently developed office-block in the City, designed by renowned British architect Norman Foster and owned by British Land.  In May 2009, the firm won a place on Christie’s streamlined new legal panel; the auction house has cut its roster from 70 law firms to 13, with Stephenson Harwood appointed UK counsel on a new art law panel.Dealing with disputes

Profiting from the increase in bank-related litigation in the wake of the credit crisis, Stephenson Harwood advised UBS in connection with claims against the private equity owners of German motorway service operator Autobahn Tank & Rast.  After Terra Firma and Deutsche Bank refused to allow UBS to sell LBO debt to rival investors, the Swiss bank filed a complaint in the High Court of Justice in June 2008, citing breach of contract.  In September 2008, the parties reached a settlement.

Stephenson Harwood also acted on two African disputes in September 2008.  The firm successfully represented African companies Primefuels Kenya and Mirambo Holdings in a shareholder dispute concerning the privatisation of the Kenyan and Ugandan railways.  Stephenson Harwood also represents Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation in the Court of Appeal against Ipco Nigeria, which is seeking the partial enforcement of a $200 million arbitration award.  The case arose out of the 22-month delay in construction of a petroleum export terminal ordered from NNPC by Ipco in 1994.  A previous attempt to enforce the award was resisted by NNPC in 2005, but after a hearing in February 2008 partial enforcement of the award was allowed.

Hires all over

Despite the economic slowdown, Stephenson Harwood made a number of significant hires in late 2008 and early 2009.  In Singapore, in January 2009, the firm brought in a former DLA Piper partner and insurance specialist, Steven Dewhurst, who boasts experience in both contentious and noncontentious work.  Also in January, the firm hired Blake Lapthorn partner Andrew Wiseman as the new head of its environmental practice in London.  Just before the end of 2008, the firm expanded its London intellectual property team with the addition of Eifion Morris, who came on board as a partner from Clifford Chance.  And in February 2009, Stephenson Harwood hired former Pinsent Masons partner Clare McConnell as the new head of its projects practice.

That same month, the firm was itself the target of a lateral raid when Clyde & Co recruited partner Mark Bisset and solicitor Oliver Tebbit from the London office, both specialists in aviation finance.  But Stephenson Harwood soon made up for the loss when it snagged an aviation expert from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in March 2009.  Paul Ng, formerly head of Freshfield’s Asia asset finance and aviation practice in Hong Kong, now serves as the global head of Stephenson Harwood’s aviation practice, dividing his time between the Singapore and China offices.
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Stephenson Harwood


One, St Paul's Churchyard
London EC4M 8SH
Phone: +44 (0)20 7329 4422
www.shlegal.com

STATS


  • Employer Type: Private
  • Chief executive: Sunil Gadhia
  • Total No. Attorneys 2009: 255

Major Office Locations

  • Shanghai, China
  • Guangzhou, China
  • Singapore, Singapore
  • London, United Kingdom
  • Paris, France
  • Piraeus, Greece
  • Hong Kong, Hong Kong
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