Ashurst fights to recover its M&A reputation, amidst growing competition

November 12, 2017 Ashurst’s previously heralded M&A reputation has suffered a few recent beatings. Its brand as a top-tier plc deal adviser has suffered under a string of losses. Its lacking financial performance was not helped by the recent controversial Australia merger, nor the departure of prominent partners lately.

According to one former partner, “Corporate was the jewel in the crown. The firm has changed from what is was six or seven years ago.” Another attributes the wavering reputation to a misplaced focus in this comment: “It used to be joint number one with Clifford Chance for private equity. The practice faded away as it focused outside London.”

Though the dip in overall success is certainly felt, Ashurst has seen some wins recently. Corporate partners James Fletcher and Karen Davies managed a £3bn tie-up for AVEVA Group with Schneider Electric’s industrial software business.

Additionally, the firm’s specialist in corporate infrastructure Logan Mair secured a new mandate advising Berendsen as it faced a £2.17bn takeover bid by Elis. He was able to take advantage of the situation to snatch the client from Slaughter & May. Deals for Shanks Group and Cape also yielded some notable results.

However, it is still difficult to rely on £1bn-plus deals, which remain uncommon. Stats from Mergermarket do not do much to improve the firm’s outlook. Once so reliable, deal volumes for Ashurst’s European M&A do not even crack the top 20 for the first nine months of 2017, although other research does give the firm a higher showing.

Although the firm has seen some big successes in 2017, nothing has quite managed to negate the firm’s damaged reputation in private equity, which was only brought further down by the five-partner raid of the firm’s Paris office earlier this year by Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer. The firm itself concedes that its continental deal practice requires some tune-ups. Nonetheless, Ashurst maintains the position that its City M&A is as strong as ever.

Up for speculation is the true intent the firm. Ashurst may be trying to stay on the same track with its traditional plc work, or it may be angling for a reinvention as an industry house. If the latter is true, the firm would hope to secure deal work in target sectors.

Ashurst’s TMT group benefited from the strategic hires of partners Nick Elverston and Amanda from Herbert Smith Freehills. These additions strengthened the technology sector for the group, which has produced some results, along with the funds, infrastructure, real estate, and energy sectors.

According to corporate veteran Robert Ogilvy Watson, the upcoming year will continue the trajectory of recovery, asserting that the firm’s plc client base in the UK and Australia will expand. This confidence is in spite of the ever-crowding and price-specific deal market.

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