For the 200-plus attorneys working on Dechert’s finance and M&A team, the unifying goal has mirrored that of the firm’s biggest clients: Expand globally.
The result has been what firm leaders call a strong international presence with a Pennsylvania touch. And the numbers back it up.
Over the past two years, Dechert has either added finance and M&A partners or opened offices in places like Beijing, Hong Kong, Dubai, the former Soviet Union, Frankfurt and London. More than half the team is based internationally. Three years ago, cross-border transactions represented about one-third of the practice area’s work. Last year, they were half.
“Our clients are becoming increasingly globalized,” said Henry Nassau, chair of the corporate practice. “The whole American economy has become globalized.”
Nassau said the different types of problems that arise on an international level — a cross-border exchange for a German company that wants to be listed in New York, for example — are best cured by having Dechert lawyers on the ground.
Nassau said the finance and M&A group — the firm’s biggest moneymaker among specialty practices, driving in 20.3 percent of Dechert’s overall revenue — will only continue to grow worldwide.
“We spend more and more time saying, ‘What cross-border opportunities are there for our clients?’” Nassau said, listing international expansion as one of the practice’s top goals.
Nassau also pointed to the burgeoning energy practice, particularly in the oil and gas industries, as one where a presence overseas — a freshly-minted, 13-lawyer office in Kazakhstan — has underpinned an increase in referrals headed Dechert’s way for clients’ domestic needs.
So, it seems, the worldwide development and the strong local core play nicely off one another.
Most notably over the last two years, Dechert represented its longtime client Crown Holdings Inc. in a $1 billion offering of senior notes, legal work that culminated when the notes were put up in January of this year. Led by partner William Lawlor, Dechert has also helped the Fortune 500 can manufacturer navigate an ongoing expansion into Europe, China and the Middle East, serving as the company’s go-to legal resource for financings, mergers and acquisitions, litigation and labor-relations counseling.
“In Crown’s case, we have a longstanding, dedicated team of lawyers around the world who know the client inside and out and daily sweat the company’s problems,” Lawlor said. “We are built for companies like Crown.”
With clients like Crown, Lawlor said the biggest challenge is “threading the needle” among the competing legal needs of the company, which is particularly challenging in Crown’s case because of its international corporate structure and liability management issues, Lawlor said.
All things considered, the company has entrusted Dechert to navigate the complicated financial waters.
William Gallagher, the senior vice president and general counsel at Crown, said he has watched Dechert change over the decades from a firm that serviced Crown in everything from environmental law to ERISA into a shop that largely shapes its profits around its corporate practice.
So, in light of that, Crown did what any smart business would do, as Gallagher tells it: It shopped the more “pedestrian” work out to other firms and kept Dechert, along with its higher hourly rates, on the payroll for the big-time transactions.
“This model’s worked very well for them,” Gallagher said. “There are a lot of moving parts in these transactions. Firms like Dechert have a lot more experience with complicated transactions.”
In addition to the nine-digit offering for Crown, Dechert has recently guided Pa.-based QVC through a joint venture with a Chinese company in running a multimedia retail company, represented affiliates of a Dutch-based company in a $770 million cross-border acquisition, and performed the legal work for New York-based Court Square Capital Partners when it sold a graphics company for north of $800 million.
The past two years have been impressive, but Dechert boasts its reputation in the financial services sector as one of longstanding greatness. Old hands at the firm will tell you Dechert was in private equity before the business got its name. As for the asset managers, Dechert represents 18 of the 20 largest in the world.
So when private equity shops and alternative asset managers started offering registered investment advisers, funds that are regulated under the Investment Company Act of 1940, in addition to private fund options, Dechert was at the forefront of that trend. Recent examples include the firm’s work on big redirection projects for New York financial powerhouse KKR & Co. and Philadelphia-based Franklin Square Capital Partners.
For Franklin Square, Dechert represents the investment house, its various business development companies and one closed-end fund in several public offerings. Recent work has come in the form of a $2.6 billion-plus continuous public offering of common stock for which Dechert represented FS Investment Corp. and a $2 billion continuous public offering of common stock for FS Investment Corp. II. The firm, led by partner James Lebovitz, also represents FS Energy & Power Fund in its $1.5 billion offering.
The finance and M&A practice at Dechert, with 217 lawyers worldwide, has also emerged as a leading group in the life sciences and health care sector. Nassau said growing that practice area is sensible when you consider the aging population and the fact that the health care sector of the American economy is growing twice as fast as the gross domestic product.
The bigger deals on that front, in the wake of sweeping U.S. health care reform, have been on U.S. soil.
Over the last two years, Dechert attorneys advised Ventas, a health care real estate investment trust, on more than one multibillion-dollar acquisition. A corporate team from Dechert also represented Adolor Corp. when it was sold to Cubist Pharmaceuticals for $415 million.
Pennsylvania attorneys worked to close those deals, showing that Dechert’s strong presence at home has been just as essential to the firm’s success as its efforts to build an international name.