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HammarskiÖld & Co International Strategy
ACCORDING to Mergermarket data Stockholm- based Hammarskiöld & Co ranked top among Nordic legal advisors by value of deals across the period of 1 January 1998 until December 2010. The average deal value of transactions handled by the firm during that time frame was a weighty b266m, demonstrating a consistency of headline instructions that placed it far ahead of its regional rivals; notably the firm ranked second had an average deal value of b194m over b70m less. Claes Langenius, managing partner at Hammarskiöld & Co, discusses how the firm manages to stay ahead of its competitors using a single-site business model.
WHY IS SWEDEN CURRENTLY SUCH AN ATTRACTIVE JURISDICTION FOR INTERNATIONAL CLIENTS?
First and foremost, Sweden is an attractive jurisdiction for international clients because we have a strong and stable economy. This has become an increasingly evident benefit as the financial crisis continues to destabilise economies across other, less financially secure, parts of Europe.
It is also fair to say that Sweden, and Stockholm in particular, is considered to be the financial centre of Scandinavia. Therefore, we see a lot of companies establish the centre of their Nordic operations in Sweden including US, EU and Asia-based companies.
It is also important to note that company tax is comparably low; there is a popular misconception that Sweden is a very high tax jurisdiction. The income tax rate may be relatively high but the rates for capital gains tax and company tax are not as high as people assume the capital gains tax in Sweden is 30% on realized capital income, while corporate tax stands at a competitive 26.3%. So it is a good place for investment.
WHAT BUSINESS AREAS ARE CURRENTLY DRIVING MARKET ACTIVITY?
Our M&A practice is one of the signature strengths of the firm and it continues to be a dominant driver of our success. Private M&A has been really picking up pace over the past few months and we continue to see activity there. Recent highlights included advising paper manufacture Munksjö on the sale of its packaging business to Norwegian packaging company, Tommen Gram Folie. On the public M&A side, we advised Swedish insurance company Länsförsäkringar AB in its recent b550m acquisition of Länsförsäkringar Fondliv Försäkringsaktiebolag.
Litigation is an area for which Sweden has a deservedly fantastic reputation. The country boasts a globally pre-eminent arbitration institute in the Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce (SCC). That reputation obviously contributes significantly to our work flow and we have a very strong litigation practice.
Our M&A and litigation departments are supported by a broad range of standalone practices such as banking and finance, and competition law.
DOES THE FIRM HAVE STRENGTH IN ANY NICHE PRACTICE AREAS?
One of the expressions we are hearing more often is comply or die and indeed we have seen an increasing flow of work relating to compliance issues across banking and finance, competition and anti-corruption. Clients want us to take the lead and create investigation and compliance programmes for their companies.
Our IP and media department also has a very good reputation, especially in the IT, media and entertainment sectors. The connection between intellectual property rights and EU and competition law has become very marked; there is a growing struggle between free movement of goods, competition and IP, which we see as an important area going forward.
We also have a strong focus along our key sector lines and these areas include insurance, private equity, retail, energy, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals and entertainment.
HAMMARSKIÖLD ESCHEWS INTERNATIONAL EXPANSION IN FAVOUR OF A STRONG GLOBAL ALLIANCE NETWORK, WHAT ADVANTAGES DOES THAT GIVE CLIENTS?
Our decision to not open offices in other countries is rooted in our determination to provide our clients with the best service possible. Our one-site strategy gives us the freedom to provide a bespoke referral to each client to ensure that they receive the most appropriate assistance in any area of law. As every client knows, all leading firms shine across a particular set of business areas and we can cherry pick the specific specialisms that fit their legal matter.
Therefore, the main advantage for us is that we can just pick up the phone and call any firm in the world. Unlike law firms that are part of big sprawling international networks, we are not subject to pressure to choose a lawyer from a member office that may not be suitable for the job. We simply dont have those restrictions.
Operating cross-border deals in this way also provides significant value-savings to the client; not just in terms of financial benefit although clearly the ability to choose specialist lawyers ensures that billing-time is reduced but also in terms of time-savings, because using the best local firm is the most efficient way to resource cross-border deals.
The foreign firms that we have recently worked alongside include some of Londons Magic Circle (Clifford Chance, Freshfields, Allen & Overy) as well as leading US firms (Shearman & Sterling, Debevoise & Plimpton) along with many others. It is worth noting the extent of our international focus; over the past three years, approximately 30-40% of our deals have had an international element.
HOW MUCH ACCESS CAN HAMMARSKIÖLD PROVIDE CLIENTS INTO PAN-NORDIC AND PAN-EUROPEAN MARKETS?
We are a truly international law firm with a focus on headline deals but we are also a Swedish firm and we are rooted in our regional legal market. We have contacts with all the best independent Scandinavian firms and can provide easy access to the leading firms across Denmark, Finland and Norway. We make it our business to know the strongest individuals in every firm across the jurisdictions we most frequently work in and it is a priority for us to maintain those excellent connections. It is not enough to choose a lawyer that is best in their practice area; we also want to make sure that we choose a lawyer that is best for that particular client and for their business.
HOW DO YOU ENSURE THAT CONSISTENCY IN THE QUALITY OF SERVICE IS MAINTAINED AMONG YOUR REFERRAL PARTNERS?
We have a very useful peer assessment tool within the firm to ensure quality of service. We evaluate our performance, and the performance of the firms we work with, on a continual basis so we know exactly how they perform for us. This guarantees that the client always receives gold-standard legal support.
We also co-ordinate and project manage cross- border deals from our central office so clients have only one point of contact. All advice that is passed on by a referral firm is repackaged by us to answer a specific client question or issue and this creates a seamless service throughout the deal.
ACCORDING TO MERGERMARKET DATA HAMMARSKIÖLD & CO TOP BY AVERAGE DEAL VALUE ACROSS THE NORDIC REGION, HOW HAVE YOU MANAGED TO STAY AHEAD OF THE FIELD?
Our philosophy is to remain focused on blue-chip clients and we take that very seriously. We act for major multinational clients such as IKEA and Universal Music as well as the largest private equity houses and several state-owned entities. Over the past 13-14 years we have acted on some of the largest deals in Sweden and that has given us a platform to continually raise the bar.
Significantly, we also have a three-partner client committee that is notified before a lawyer is allowed to take on a new client. The committee needs to approve new clients prior to instructions to avoid potential conflicts of interest. This strategic client procedure has enabled us to steer clear of the kind of conflict pitfalls that can sometimes hamper our competitors, and it also encourages forward-planning.