Why next year will be critical for London's army of M&A dealmakers

WHEN Tim Jones, the London managing partner of global law giant Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, walks into a room, one is immediately struck by the fact that he still looks every inch the Wales B rugby prop forward he used be.<br /><br />However, as he settles down in one of his firm&rsquo;s sixth-floor, oak-panelled&nbsp; meeting room, he is quick to laugh off his Welsh connections: &ldquo;I was born in Barnet, my grandfather was Welsh. I spent around nine years training four times a week before my commitments here became too great.&rdquo; His last games for Wales were just after the first Rugby World Cup hosted by New Zealand and Australia in 1987.<br /><br />Jones, 52, is a heavy-set bear of a man, who like a lot of serious rugby players appears to wear a suit as if he has only just discovered such<br />garments existed this morning.&nbsp; Yet he is also a Freshfields lifer who joined the firm in 1980 and has worked all over the world for the Magic Circle firm, though London has been at the centre of his thinking for at least the past two years.<br /><br />He was promoted to head the London office &ndash; which comprises some 900 lawyers and accounts for around a third of the firm&rsquo;s total sales &ndash; in 2007. It was a role especially created for him.<br /><br />Jones says: &ldquo;The growth of London as a financial centre over the last 10 to 15 years has also seen a surge in popularity of English law to sign agreements. Previously it was more common to use a mixture of New York and local law.&rdquo;<br /><br />Many of the lawyers who are ostensibly based in the London office, Jones says, spend weeks at a time attached to local offices helping to see through deals.<br /><br />Previously, Jones was head of the firm&rsquo;s corporate practice in the early part of the decade and worked on the IPOs of internet gaming sites Partygaming and its rival 888.<br /><br />&nbsp;Today, however, his role is to oversee all areas of the London office&rsquo;s activity, to keep existing clients happy, sit on new business pitches and &ldquo;to be a visible part of the London business community. That was something we were not as good at before&rdquo;.<br /><br />Jones is a key figure at Freshfields, alongside joint senior partners Guy Morton, Konstantin Mettenheimer, and its chief executive Ted Burke.<br /><br />The firm &ndash; key clients include the Bank of England (BoE), Royal Bank of Scotland, supermarket Tesco and buyout firm Permira &ndash; had a good year in a subdued market with revenues up 9 per cent at &pound;1.3bn and average partner salaries matching the previous year&rsquo;s at &pound;1.4m, allowing it to overtake rival Clifford Chance as the City&rsquo;s biggest law firm.<br /><br />However, this spring the firm implemented a company-wide pay freeze in response to the downturn. Other Magic Circle rivals such as Linklaters and Allen &amp; Overy instead decided to cut hundreds of lawyers and support staff to keep costs down.<br /><br />Jones says: &ldquo;We will not grow our staff numbers next year. This has been a difficult thing to get used to for some of the people here because for the last 15 years all the legal profession has known has been expansion.&rdquo; He adds that the firm has yet to make a decision on whether its pay freeze will remain in place in 2010.<br /><br />Jones says Freshfields managed to avoid conflicts of interests between the BoE, which it has represented since 1743, and the slew of banks that looked for funds from the government and later from the markets over the last 12 months.<br /><br />He says:&nbsp; &ldquo;We have a dedicated BoE team and we were very clear with the Bank what other financial institutions we were working with and they were happy with that.&rdquo;<br /><br />But he adds that when US investment bank Lehman Brothers went bust last September leading the credit markets to freeze &ndash; which lead in turn to government capital injections in Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds and HBOS &ndash; rules over conflicts had to be relaxed.<br /><br />Jones says: &ldquo;At the time everyone had to be flexible. There were simply not that many top flight banking lawyers to go around. However, we mostly worked with underwriters and not with many other banks directly.&rdquo;<br /><br />The firm has also acted for the German government on bailout packages for its country&rsquo;s biggest banks over the last 12 months. This was a result of contacts established as a consequence of the 2000 merger with German powerhouse Bruckhaus Westrick Heller Loeber.<br /><br />At the time, critics of the move said that&nbsp; while the tie-up gave the business the size and scope to go after new clients, the dual leadership structure of having two senior partners made the 5,000-strong firm unwieldy and slow to make decisions, particularly in wake of the corporate slump flowing the dotcom crash in 2001.<br /><br />But Jones argues after a few turbulent years those problems are in the past. He says: &ldquo;The tie-up in 2000 was a big merger. And that takes a long time to settle down. We are operating much more as an integrated firm now. We have learned a huge amount from the Germans about clarity of expression and speed of implementation.&rdquo;<br /><br />Although equity markets are picking up and US food firm Kraft&rsquo;s &pound;10.2bn proposal for UK rival Cadbury may herald a return to mergers and acquisitions, Jones is cautious about the prospects for 2010.<br /><br />He says: &ldquo;Next year will be a nervous time. The market will be waiting for its first big deal to happen. Then potentially by the middle of the year a lot of other deals may flow from that. There is currently a lot more talk about activity in the market. But by the middle of next year we will have to see if this is just talk. It will take brave souls to be the first into the market.&rdquo; <br /><br />However, Jones&rsquo; gilded career has not been all plain sailing. In 2004 he and another Freshfields partner at the time, Barry O&rsquo;Brien, represented retail entrepreneur Philip Green in his aborted bid to take over Marks &amp; Spencer.<br /><br />But M&amp;S&rsquo; lawyer Nigel Boardman &ndash; from Slaughter and May &ndash; had them thrown off the bid after a High Court injunction, because Jones and O&rsquo;Brien had previously represented M&amp;S while it negotiated new Per Una contracts with fashion retailer George Davies who supplies the women&rsquo;s clothing range to the chain.<br /><br />Following this both men were charged by the Law Society with breaching its conflict with clients regulations &ndash; if found guilty the pair could have been struck off, suspended or fined.<br /><br />The profession subsequently relaxed rules over competing clients at law firms but it still took three year before its governing body said it would drop its charges against Jones in August 2007. Jones simply says: &ldquo;That was quite a frustrating time. It was a long drawn out process, and a pretty uncomfortable period.&rdquo;<br /><br />But Jones&rsquo; current mood is upbeat, arguing that the growing number of legal outsourcing firms from India and the Philippines makes for an important period in the profession. This could revolutionise the way City firms operate, he argues.<br /><br />He says: &ldquo;It is an interesting time to be managing a law firm. Our bit of the legal profession could look quite different to how it is now in five years.&rdquo;<br /><br />Jones adds: &ldquo;For instance, in litigation you could have a million emails to review. Currently we do this, but we could get someone else to do this. And we should not see this as a threat.&nbsp; It would allow us to drop some of the drudgery, and would leave us free to concentrate on top end higher value work. People pay us for complex specialised advice.&rdquo;<br /><br />Jones, along with the rest of the legal profession, will be hoping mergers and acquisitions start up in earnest next year. A legal industry with the ability to deliver complex, specialised advice is one of London&rsquo;s great strengths; we should never forget that there is much, much more to the City than just investment banks.<br /><br /><strong>CV </strong> TIM JONES<br /><br /><strong>Age:</strong> 52<br /><br /><strong>Work:</strong> Joined the firm in 1980 as a junior lawyer; made partner in 1990; 1994 to 2000 &ndash; built up the firm&rsquo;s Spanish office; 2000 to 2003 &ndash; came back to London to become co-head of the finance department; 2003 to 2007 &ndash; head of the corporate department; 2007 to present &ndash; London managing partner.&nbsp; <br /><br /><strong>Education:</strong> Read law at Wadham College, Oxford, 1976 to 1980 <br /><br /><strong>Family:</strong> Married, three children; lives in Ashtead, Surrey<br /><br /><strong>Interests:</strong> Played rugby for London Welsh and Wales B; chairman of the London steering group of Business Action on Homelessness; skiing; walking.