The results are in, the word is out: and once again the industry-leading IFN Law Awards cut a cross-section through the elite of Islamic finance law to bring you the foremost legal leaders in global, regional and sectoral expertise for 2013-14. Read on to discover who was the best, where came the rest – and why this year Islamic Finance
news has put a whole new model to the test.
In the sixth year of what has grown to be one of the most prestigious accolades in the industry, IFN held firm to its principles of independence, objectivity and innovation by introducing a radical departure from the former framework on which the previous five years of polls have been based.
Launched in 2011, the IFN Law Poll originally awarded the awards based on votes cast by readers online for a nominated shortlist in each category. However, after considerable debate it was decided to depart from this framework in 2014 to make the contest as impartial and open as possible. This year, therefore, the polls were renamed the IFN Law Awards and made submissions-based: with an independent and industry-wide panel of expert judges deciding the winners in a process that we believe is the fairest for all parties.
Submissions took place during the month of June, with the judging process taking place during the month of July. In another exceptional year that confirmed the influence these awards have for the industry, 105 law firm submissions were received for 14 categories: each for which one winner and one runner-up were then selected. Although some results may come as no surprise, this year brought an exceptionally comprehensive cross-section which enabled a level playing field – from which the real groundbreakers in each category could emerge.
Unbroken run for A&O
Despite 2014 being one of the most hotly contested years so far, and even across the new format of the awards, leading Big Five firm Allen & Overy held its ground to retain the top spot by a comfortable margin. Winning three out of the 13 individual categories (Capital Markets, Structured Finance and Insolvency & Restructuring) as well as second place in two more (Project Finance and Energy & Natural Resources) and with the breadth of expertise and global stretch of the firm as well as its constant focus on new horizons led to its achievement – for the fourth year in a row – of IFN Law Firm of The Year.
With 44 lawyers in its Islamic finance department, headed by partner Anzal Mohammed, Allen & Overy has been involved in some of the largest and most complex Islamic finance transactions over the past 12 months, across diverse locations and multiple sectors. These include the March 2014 US$10 billion restructuring of Dubai Group; the dual tranche US$2.5 billion Sukuk issued in April this year by Saudi Electricity Company; energy and power bids like the November 2013 ACWA Power bid for the Second Independent Power Project at Rabigh, Saudi Arabia; the first international corporate hybrid Sukuk in the world with GEMS’ US$200 million hybrid issuance; the first Mubadala real estate investment fund in the GCC; and the Ijarah financing for four Bombardier aircraft for Ethiopian Airlines. Allen & Overy has also been involved in pushing forward the edge of innovation this year, working on deals such as the hybrid perpetual SAR1.7 billion (US$453.2 million) Sukuk issuance for Almarai, the largest consumer food producer in the Middle East: which was the first corporate hybrid issuance in the MENA region and the first riyal-denominated corporate issuance in the world. The firm has advised on more international Sukuk issues than any other law firm for this period, including every single international issuance from Saudi Arabia and every publicly offered Saudi Sukuk issue. It has expert energy, real estate, project finance, structured finance and infrastructure teams, and operates a global finance group from nine countries across Europe, the Middle East and Asia. “We believe the breadth, sophistication and volume of our work across all of Islamic finance… puts us ahead of our competitors,” said Anzal.
This year IFN decided to split the Banking & Capital Markets award into two categories, in which Allen & Overy once emerged dominant on the capital markets side. Its team of 22 has led some of the key deals over the past 12 months including the June 2014 SAR2 billion (US$533.18 million) Bank Saudi Fransi Sukuk, the US$750 million Emaar Malls Group Sukuk and the October 2013 US$2.5 billion Al Hilal Bank Sukuk program.
Runner up was Linklaters, edging out Latham & Watkins, with transactions including the Dubai Investment Partners Sukuk of February 2014, the GEMS MEA Sukuk, the Khazanah Nasional exchangeable trust certificates, and the Dana Gas restructuring of May 2013 – the only exchangeable bond issued over the last 12 months. This award was one of the closest fought of the contest, with the eventual decision coming down to a choice between participation in corporate deals (where Allen & Overy shone) and sovereign deals (where Linklaters dominated). In the end Allen & Overy edged out through sheer breadth of deals, but special notice must be taken of Linklaters’ exceptional inroads into Islamic finance this year, led by its head of global Islamic finance Neil Miller. Its participation in the landmark UK sovereign Sukuk cemented a reputation which we expect to see it take a leading role on larger deals in the future.
Honorable mention also goes to Albar & Partners for its strong performance in the Malaysian capital markets, and Morgan Lewis & Bockius for its strides forward in the sector throughout the year.
Unsurprisingly, banking was another of the most fiercely contested categories this year, with a number of strong contenders. Norton Rose Fulbright wrested the prize from its 2013 winner Allen & Overy: with its strong team of over 50 lawyers handling deals of impressive breadth and cross-border spread: including the GBP130 million (US$220.63 million) ABC Bank facility for South Bank Tower, the largest Shariah compliant development taking place in London; the two Gatehouse Bank Sukuk of December 2013; the January 2014 Sukuk Murabahah for Al-Baraka Turk, and the triple-listed IDB US$10 billion Sukuk program, the largest ‘AAA’-rated issuance in the world.
Latham & Watkins came runner-up, maintaining its 2013 position, with honorable mentions going to King & Spalding for its diversity of deals, Ahmed & Qazi in Pakistan for its increase in activity and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer for notable growth and innovative deals in the aviation sector.
Asset Management saw King & Spalding take the top spot, from 2013 winners SJ Berwin. King & Spalding have been highly active in the investment space this year, led by partner Nabil Issa: participating in deals such as the Emirates NBD Capital SAR800 million (US$213.27 million) real estate fund and the new Pinebridge Investments Middle East US$200 million fund, which have been instrumental in driving forward Islamic asset management in the Gulf region. Second place went to Herbert Smith Freehills, headed by partner Nadim Khan, as it advised on a number of notable deals including the Emirates REIT IPO.
Takaful and re-Takaful
The award for best firm for Takaful and reTakaful went to Norton Rose Fulbright for the second year in a row, as it demonstrated once again its unrivalled expertise in corporate tax and insurance. The firm handled the launch of Cobalt Underwriting Services in the UK in 2013, the world’s first Shariah compliant underwriting service, along with a number of other deals including the Absa Insurance Company Takaful indemnity claim in South Africa in August 2013. “We are innovators in this sector and possess unrivalled technical and commercial knowledge,” commented a spokesperson. The firm won the award by a wide margin, and no runner up was selected.
Mergers & Acquisitions
Another award which saw one firm dominate the field was the category of Mergers & Acquisitions, which was swept away by Latham & Watkins from last year’s winners Allen & Overy. The firm, led by partners Craig Nethercott and Ahmad Anani, has built a strong practice in a challenging field and led innovation in an industry that has undergone high volatility in recent times. Notable transactions the US$15 merger by Mubadala of Dubai Aluminium and Emirates Aluminium to create the world’s fifth-largest aluminium company by production – one of the largest M&A deals ever done in the Middle East.
Honorable mentions however also go to Albar & Partners in Malaysia and White & Case in Abu Dhabi for their originality and innovation in a field of difficult and complex deals.
Private Equity is another challenging category, which this year posed a challenge due to the nature of the sector: which being broadly Shariah compliant without necessarily requiring any specific Islamic conditions means that firms often select legal representation based on a wide range of factors – from individual relationships to more conventional choices – meaning that the field is broad and no one firm stands out. Having said that, several of the leading Islamic finance law firms have made inroads into this sector, and after careful deliberation IFN for 2014 awards the Best Law Firm for Private Equity to Freshfields, Bruckhaus & Deringer for its work with some of the leading GCC private equity firms. In second place is Norton Rose Fulbright, while Allen & Gledhill also receives an honorable mention.
Real Estate & Property is always one of the most popular categories, and this year was no exception. From last year’s winners Allen & Gledhill, this year Herbert Smith Freehills took the top spot due to its exceptional geographical remit with work across Europe in interesting new locations and projects, as well as deals in the Middle East including advising Al Salam Bank – Bahrain on a number of property financings.
Foot Anstey of the UK took second place, led by partner Imam Qazi, but although the contest was very close the firm was pipped at the post due to Herbert Smith’s free hill’s geographical diversity: with the majority of Foot Anstey’s impressive portfolio located in the UK. Honorable mentions in this category also go to Norton Rose Fulbright, Allen & Overy and Baspinar & Partners, who all put in an exceptional performance over the last 12 months in their respective regions.
Trade Finance is a new category introduced this year to recognize a growing field in Islamic finance that is increasing in importance as the industry develops. IFN is delighted to announce that the inaugural award goes to DLA Piper Middle East, led by partner Paul McViety, based on its strong presence in the field: with deals over the past 12 months including advising Anham FZCO on a US$42 million Trade Murabahah facility from QInvest; and Emirates Islamic on a US$25 million Murabahah facility for ABV Rock Group Company. Runner up in this new category was Latham & Watkins, whose work with Etihad Etisalat Company should be recognized, while honorable mention also goes to Albar & Partners in Malaysia led by managing partner Syed Zaid Albar.
Continuing the international focus, the award for Best Law Firm for Offshore Finance this year went once again to Maples & Calder, the first offshore law firm to open an office in the Middle East, for the third year running. The firm has demonstrated its dominance in the field beyond debate: with participation in almost every major offshore deal over the last 12 months.
Project Finance, in comparison, is one of the most strongly contested categories in the awards. This year the crown was taken by White & Case, away from last year’s winners Latham & Watkins, based on deal size and diversity: with stand-out transactions including the Gulf Marine Services US$140 million financing in February 2014 and the EMAL Smelter Project US$10 billion Phase II expansion of July 2013.
Second place goes to Allen & Overy for its active and diverse participation in the field including with the winning bid by ACWA Power for the second independent power project at Rabigh, Saudi Arabia in November 2013. Honorable mention also goes to Albar & Partners of Malaysia which was a very strong contender due to its work with Malakoff Power and SapuraKencana Petroleum.
Energy & Natural Resources
In a related category, the highly popular Energy & Natural Resources Award for 2014 goes to Latham & Watkins (from 2013 winner Vinson & Elkins). The firm has seen an impressive year with an exceptional array of deals across the Middle East region: including work with The Public Investment Fund in Saudi Arabia for the IPC Plant Project; the US$31 million facility for Microsol International; the US$662 million refinancing for Maran Nakilat’s fleet of LNG carriers in Qatar; the representation of Qatar Petroleum in Mesaieed Petrochemical’s IPO and the restructuring of the Dana Gas Sukuk.
]Second place goes to Allen & Overy for a year which has seen participation in some landmark deals and sizeable transactions including the ACWA Power deal and the Saudi Elastomers US$3.2 billion expansion of its Kenya petrochemical plant. A close runner-up was Norton Rose Fulbright for second place, but the firm was edged out by the wider geographical spread of Allen & Overy’s activities.
Insolvency & Restructuring
Allen & Overy continued its winning streak with the award for Insolvency & Restructuring, which it took for the second year in a row – with second place going to Linklaters for its work with Dubai Group and the International Diol Company. Honorable mention in this field also goes to K&L Gates for its work with Arcapita, as well as Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer for its advice to The Investment Dar on its settlement-in-kind offer of around US$1.2 billion of existing debt in November 2013.
Finally, and in one of the most hotly contested categories of the year, we come to the award for Best Law Firm for Structured Finance: which this year saw some of the highest numbers of submissions and was extremely fiercely fought. The award eventually went to Allen & Overy, our overall winner: based on a focus towards breaking boundaries and driving innovation in the field. The firm has put in sterling participation over the last 12 months with landmark projects such as the development of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority’s Shariah compliant derivatives documentation; as well as working on developing Shariah compliant repo transactions and utilizing equity derivatives technology to create portfolio options.
Despite the strong competition, Allen & Overy remains the global leader in the structured finance field: advising a wide number of firms across the spectrum of the sector from Shariah compliant FX to derivatives, profIt rate swaps, structured products, margin financings and structured deposits. It consistently pushes the limits of what can be achieved and seeks new methods to deliver client demands: making it the clear winner in a challenging and complex category.
Second place in this sector goes to Clifford Chance, based in its work with JPMorgan on its US$40 million collateralized Islamic total return swap with Sukuk as the underlying asset. Led by partner Habib Motani, the total return swap incorporated both profit rate and credit default swap features and settlement mechanics as well as Wa’ad and Murabahah structures, and was an exceptional example of complex cross-sectoral communication.
Honorable mentions also go to Herbert Smith Freehills, Norton Rose Fulbright and Latham & Watkins, who were all close contenders in the race.
IFN would like to extend its warmest congratulations to the winners, and indeed to all the firms who were nominated this year. The continued growth and popularity of these awards are testament to the rising power and prestige of the Islamic finance industry, and we are proud to be able to recognize the vital and valuable work that the legal sector provides to promote the industry’s onward progression.
The awards will be presented at the annual IFN Awards Ceremonies held in Dubai and Kuala Lumpur in February 2015, and we look forward to seeing you there.