Well known for its leading real estate practice, Berwin Leighton Paisner is also prominent in corporate and finance, and boasts strong teams in tax and dispute resolution. A regular winner of the legal media’s “Law Firm of the Year” award (the firm has claimed the title from both The Lawyer and Legal Week), BLP also has a reputation as a great place to work. Some of the firm’s best-known clients include Barclays, Hermes Real Estate, ING International, Lockheed Martin, Tesco and The Financial Times.
A meeting of legal minds
Today’s Berwin Leighton Paisner is the product of a merger between three law firms: Paisner & Co, Leighton & Co and Berwin & Co. Its earliest roots date back to 1932 when Leslie Paisner established Paisner & Co, a law firm that provided general legal and conveyancing advice. As the firm developed throughout the 1940s and 1950s, it became known for its corporate work and attracted such clients as Penguin Books and Great Universal Stores. Leighton & Co came about in 1947, set up by Lionel Leighton to furnish West End property developers with litigation and property advice. Much later, in the early 1960s, legal entrepreneur Stanley Berwin set up his own practice, Berwin & Co, which specialised in mergers and acquisitions, corporate finance and tax work.
In 1970, Leighton & Co merged with Berwin & Co to form Berwin Leighton, and the firm quickly built up a reputation as a leading property firm, advising such clients as Tesco, British Land and Lex. Between 1980 and 2000, both Berwin Leighton and Paisner & Co saw tremendous growth, picking up major clients in the leisure, banking, government and retail sectors. Finally, in 2001, the two firms joined forces to become Berwin Leighton Paisner, with more than 900 staff, including 122 partners. The newly merged firm experienced significant growth, particularly in corporate finance, banking and finance-related work.
Navigating the downturn
For many years, BLP enjoyed record growth, doubling its turnover in five years, and setting up the UK’s fifth-largest real estate department. By 2008, however, with the global economic downturn affecting development projects the world over, the firm’s key division, real estate projects, felt the impact. In 2009, the firm froze salaries and announced a redundancy programme in London. That same year, Neville Eisenberg was elected for a fourth term as managing partner, with one of his mandates to raise the profile of the firm’s corporate practice. Toward that end, BLP brought in several finance experts and a new private equity chief. BLP also launched an office in Moscow, merging with Russian firm Pepeliaev Goltsblat & Partners to form Goltsblat BLP, a 70-lawyer firm that provides both Russian and English law capabilities. About 30 per cent of BLP’s business is international and, in addition to a number of “preferred firms” relationships, the firm has offices in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
From Russia, with love
Thanks in part to earnings from the firm’s new Moscow office, the firm reported double-digit increases in both turnover and profits for 2010–11. Turnover climbed by 20 per cent, while profit per equity partner rose an even more impressive 56 per cent. Managing partner Neville Eisenberg attributed the strong showing to growth in Russia, the Middle East and Singapore, as well as to increased business for the corporate and real estate practices. In another positive sign, the firm promoted 13 lawyers to partnership in 2011 (most in the London office), the largest round of promotions in five years.
Tesco and towers
The firm has acted for long-time client Tesco in a series of CMBS (Commercial Mortgage Backed Security) issues over the last two years, the most recent in early 2011 involving 20 trading Tesco stores and a mixed-use retail mall. BLP was also responsible for the disposal of properties in the White Tower portfolio, once owned by former tycoon Simon Halabi, as part of a massive CMBS workout. The firm prepared the properties for sale and managed the competitive bidding process. In June 2011, the firm advised Ernst & Young on the sale of Aviva Tower, the final White Tower property, for $288 million.
In an historic matter involving international merger clearance, BLP advised China-based companies PCM/Nexteer and AVIC Auto in connection with AVIC’s acquisition of PCM/Nextee. In April 2011, the firm obtained the first-ever clearance by the European Commission of a transaction involving the purchase of a Chinese company by another Chinese company. The BLP team had also acted for PCM in 2010 in obtaining the necessary European clearances for PCM’s purchase of Nexteer from GM.
Love that dirty water
Among recent noteworthy transactions, in 2010 BLP concluded a deal worth some £5 million per year to undertake all legal work for Thames Water, thereby not only taking on 15 lawyers formerly employed by the utility company but also moving in on work once performed by the likes of Allen & Overy, Linklaters and Ashurst.
Continuing the firm’s goals to beef up its corporate and finance teams, the firm has made a number of high-profile hires for its finance practices since the start of 2011, snagging partners and counsel from Skadden, Charles Russell, Herbert Smith, DLA Piper, Pinsent Masons and Mayer Brown. In May, the firm expanded its Singapore office with the addition of a team from Holman Fenwick & Willan, and in June, BLP hired a counsel from Linklaters in order to launch an office in Hong Kong.
BLP v. NoW
As the phone-hacking scandal surrounding the now-defunct News of the World grows ever wider, BLP has been pulled into the fray. Litigation partner Graham Shear, who has acted for many celebrities, sports players and politicians on defamation and invasion of privacy actions, currently represents Chelsea footballer Ashley Cole in a claim against the tabloid’s publishers. On learning from the task force investigating the Hackgate scandal that his own phone had also been hacked, Shear filed a breach of privacy claim against News International in July 2011. His colleague Joby Davies is advising him.
London EC4R 9HA
Phone: +44 (0)20 7760 1000
Employer Type: Private
Managing partner: Neville Eisenberg
Total No. Attorneys 2011: 720
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
London, United Kingdom