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“AIM? I’m bloody gasping. Bring on the next cycle,” says one battered veteran. Quite. Capital markets lawyers have long passed the pretence of cautious optimism when it comes to the state of London’s junior market. Yet such gloom has so far done nothing to shake advisers’ long-term commitment to the Alternative Investment Market (AIM). No-one is denying, of course, that the exchange is much quieter than it was during the heady years of 2003-06, with just 12 AIM listings in January worth a paltry £27m. But even though the exchange began to slow long before ‘sub’ and ‘prime’ became common parlance, AIM has suffered no worse than other financing markets hit by the prolonged credit malaise – and a good deal better than some.Berwin Leighton Paisner’s (BLP’s) David Collins says: “The new year has hardly got off to a flying start. We know it won’t last – the question is when it will turn the corner.”The City’s most established AIM practitioners, including the likes of Norton Rose, BLP and LG, which have sat at the top of Hemscott’s AIM rankings for years, have all put significant investment in the sector. Norton Rose stands out not only as the leader of the latest rankings, but as one of the largest City law firms to unashamedly target the market. Indeed, head of corporate Tim Marsden attributes much of the recent expansion of the firm’s corporate practice on the international front to its AIM practice.Coupled with Norton Rose’s banking practice, which has always had a frontier/emerging market feel to it, Norton Rose has been able to build up groups focused on areas such as African mining, as well as a concentration on the energy and natural resources sectors. It was a strategy that received its fair share of sniping at its inception six years ago but far less now.One of the more niche areas to spring out of the AIM group has been Norton Rose’s strengths in renewable energy. The firm has set itself out as a leader in the field, advising clients such as PV Crystalox Solar on its listing last summer, which, with a market cap of £542m, makes it the largest renewable energy company to list in London.

And still they comeThis quarter, Hemscott’s rankings have seen Travers Smith enter the tables for the first time as adviser to four of the top 100 AIM clients. Time will tell whether this recent strong showing is a product of exit work from Travers’ active private equity team rather than a concerted AIM push, but few doubt the firm has the potential to be a major force in the market if it so wishes.And if anyone thought the influx of advisers to AIM over the last three years would now go in reverse, recent moves by two of AIM’s most established lawyers – Max Audley and Hilary Winter – show that firms yet to make a mark in the sector are still interested. The transfer of Audley from Faegre & Benson to Olswang gives further weight to the City firm’s concerted corporate push. Audley argues that a stronger AIM profile will allow Olswang to attract a more international client base; his interests in particular include the US and China.Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe’s recent hires of Jones Day’s Winter and Mintz Levin corporate head Lena Hodge reflect the firm’s hopes that it can capitalise on its Bay Area heartlands and bring start-up Californian companies to AIM (about time, too). All in all, lawyers are taking a long-term view of AIM. As Memery Crystal’s Nick Davis stoically puts it: “Sure, the market is dead, but it hasn’t reached dodo status.”

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Charlotte Edmond

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