Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Clifford Chance are in the leading position to benefit from a glut of private equity spending this year, according to an analysis of bespoke industry research by Law.com U.K. affiliate Legal Week.
The European buyout firms with the most uninvested capital ready to spend are CVC Capital Partners, EQT, Ardian and Bridgepoint, according to rankings produced by data provider Preqin. Together, the four firms have more than $60 billion ready to spend, making them some of the most coveted clients in the market.
Freshfields and Clifford Chance both act for two of the firms with the most capital at their disposal. In the last 18 months, the two magic circle firms have picked up mandates for both CVC, which logged estimated ‘dry powder’ of $18.4 billion at the end of 2018, and EQT, which had $18.2 billion.
“Given the amount of dry powder that’s been raised, we’re seeing a continuing number of large consortium deals and carve-outs as clients search for value and less competitive situations,” said Kirkland & Ellis private equity partner David Higgins. ”There’s also an expectation that there will be more take-private deals as [private equity firms] look for value on public markets. Technology continues to be an interesting sector—we’ve seen that in a lot of recent deals.”
Freshfields took center stage for long-term client CVC Capital Partners in April 2018 when the U.K.-based fund sold its majority stake in Sky Bet to Canadian betting company Stars Group. London corporate partners Tim Wilmot and Christopher Mort, antitrust partner Alastair Chapman and U.S. based co-head of global financial institutions Valerie Jacob led for Freshfields.
The firm also advised last month on CVC’s acquisition of a minority shareholding in Premier Rugby Ltd., and in July took a role for a consortium including CVC on its purchase of industrial gas giant Linde’s US assets ahead of its planned mega-merger with rival Praxair, Inc. Latham & Watkins Germany managing partner Oliver Felsenstein and Frankfurt-based corporate partner Leif Schrader also advised CVC as part of the transaction.
Freshfields’ private equity team suffered a blow last year when rainmaker Higgins moved to the London office of U.S. firm Kirkland & Ellis. But CVC remains an established client, partly thanks to the fact that Freshfields partner Chris Bown joined CVC as a legal adviser in 2013.
Clifford Chance also has strong ties to the private equity giant and last summer, London funds partner Andrew Husdan picked up a role for CVC on a $600 million secured term and revolving loan facility.
Clifford Chance has maintained the relationship despite several partner departures from the magic circle firm’s private equity practice to Latham, though the U.S. firm has, in turn, tightened its hold on the fund. Ex-Clifford Chance partner Kem Ihenacho took a role for Latham in November as it sought to become a joint majority shareholder in software security company Omada.
White & Case, meanwhile, has kept up a steady flow of work for CVC in the US.
EQT instructed a Munich-based Freshfields team on the merger of one of its hearing-aid manufacturing assets, Sivantos, with rival Widex in May, with the magic circle team headed up by global insurance head Wessel Heukamp.
In June, the Swedish private equity firm jointly purchased chemicals distribution company Azelis from Apax Partners, a deal that reportedly valued the company at about $2 billion (£1.5 million). Leading on the transaction for EQT were CC private equity partner Spencer Baylin and then-Clifford Chance private equity partner Amy Mahon, who recently sealed a move to Simpson Thacher & Bartlett.
Kirkland and Simpson Thacher have still maintained a firm hold over EQT’s mandates this year, while other firms to have advised the group in the past include Allen & Overy.
French buyout firm Ardian was third in the Preqin rankings, with estimated uninvested capital of $17 billion. The private equity firm is known to use a variety of legal advisers.
In 2018, Willkie Farr Munich partner Maximilian Schwab advised the client on two mandates – the sale of its portfolio company ESIM Chemicals to Sun European Partners and the sale of hotel cosmetics manufacturer ADA International to Austria-based investment firm Moonlake Capital.
Latham has picked up roles for the firm this year, particularly in France. Ardian has also turned to local law firms for continental Europe deals, including BonelliErede and Giovannelli.
U.K. buyout firm Bridgepoint, which has estimated uninvested capital of $7.7 billion, is a major client of Travers.
In May, Travers advised Bridgepoint its sale of sandwich chain Pret a Manger to German investment group JAB Holding company for a reported £1.5 billion ($1.9 billion), with head of private equity Paul Dolman and private equity partner Ian Shawyer leading the team.
However, Ropes has also picked up some mandates from Bridgepoint after ex-Travers partners Phil Sanderson and Helen Croke moved to the US firm in 2016. Croke advised Bridgepoint last year on legal software and Bridgepoint portfolio company BigHand’s acquisition of legal pricing tool DW Reporting.
In October, Bridgepoint also added Allen & Overy to its roster of advisers.