John Crabb (IFLR1000): “One of the things that Spanish firms have going for them is their independence”

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Gericó Associates had an opportunity to speak with John Crabb, Journalist at IFLR1000, the guide to the world’s leading law firms. In this interview we have addressed several fundamental issues, such as the importance of the international directories rankins, what is the current situtation  in the Spanish legal sector and what are the greatest strengths and the biggest flaws of Spanish law firms. 

1. First of all, and for those who might have not have heard about you, could you please explain what the IFLR1000 is?

Of course, the IFLR1000 is the guide to the world’s leading financial and corporate law firms and lawyers, with our primary function being to publish rankings for firms in financial and corporate law. At this point we cover more than 120 separate jurisdictions worldwide, but naturally this number is constantly increasing as we look to expand and incorporate new markets.
In essence we exist to help those, be it those from financial institutions, corporates or law firms, looking to do international business, perhaps in a country or region outside of their comfort zone, to obtain legal advice from a trustworthy lawyer based at a reputable firm. We do the ground work, so that our users don’t have to.
On top of this we provide daily updates on firm developments and lateral partner moves across the world, as well as regular commentary on market trends and geo-political developments affecting the field.

2. What are the main differences between The IFLR1000 and competitors such as Chambers & Partners, Legal 500 or Best Lawyers?

I would say that the main difference between the IFLR1000 and any alternatives that you see on the market at present is the scope of what we do. By definition, and in line with the direction of our sister publication, IFLR magazine, we are experts in the financial and corporate space, and do not cover any other areas of law, be it labour, IP, tax or something else. From the offset we have opted to model ourselves in this way, consciously choosing not to spread ourselves too thinly and therefore ensuring that we are the best at what we do. We do operate as part of Euromoney’s Legal Media Group, and of course maintain excellent working relationships with its numerous industry specific titles, which gives us intimate access to the expertise and knowledge within these sectors. We are also in the latter stages of developing a fully searchable database of highlight transactions in the financial and corporate space, which, when it is released later this year, we firmly believe is going to set us apart.

3. What do you analyse and value when ranking firms?

That’s an easy one. In brief, IFLR1000’s annual research is based on primarily transactional evidence that we glean from three facets over a three year period; deal questionnaires provided by firms, backed up by private practice partner and client referee interviews. We have a team of researchers based in our three offices- London, Hong Kong and New York- that work around the clock contacting the right people to ensure that our rankings are always completely accurate. On top of this we regularly conduct market research trips to jurisdictions around the world, where we meet with leading local firms and lawyers. Being on the ground and seeing a market first-hand is an excellent way to understand how it operates.

4. What are the most common mistakes in submissions made by Spanish firms?

In truth I wouldn’t say that Spanish firms are any worse, or indeed any better, than those from any other jurisdiction. The mistakes that firms tend to make on submissions are much the same- I wouldn’t say that country of origin really comes in to it. Personally, I would say that the most common mistake is not following our guidelines suitably, by providing us with erroneous information, or submitting a document with not enough – or even far too much – substance, some firms do not help their own causes. Because our researchers work through a lot of submissions, what really is the best way to properly stand out and be taken into consideration- is to simplify this task by telling them what exactly what they need to know, in as clear a manner as possible.

iflr1000-logo5. What makes a lawyer an IFLR1000 Rising Star?

That is a good question. In addition to ranking law firms, we also individually acclaim outstanding lawyers that we consider to be market leaders in their chosen field using the same criteria that we base our rankings on. We have two categories; IFLR1000 Leading Lawyers and Rising Stars. Leading Lawyers are individuals who have proven themselves to be among the most important figures in their respective markets, while Rising Stars are, put simply, the Leading Lawyers of the future. Generally speaking, a Rising Star will tend to be around senior associate level, and will have demonstrated an ability to lead on transactions of significance, although of course this is only a guideline.


6. What is your view on the Spanish legal sector?

I think it is an extremely interesting time for the Spanish legal sector, and for Spain in general. The difference in the conversations and meeting that I conducted this year in comparison to those in 2015 has been very stark. The mood has gone from cautious optimism as the various markets began to rebuild and exhibit growth, to that of real uncertainty in the wake of Brexit and continued political uncertainty in Madrid.

The Spanish legal market itself is obviously heavily populated by a number of prestigious international firms. Competition between ambitious domestic outfits and the resource rich teams from London or New York to win the most complex mandates has been fierce in recent years. As a result of this I think a clear gulf has emerged in some areas, elevating the most influential Spanish firms, Cuatrecasas, Uría Menéndez or Garrigues for example, and the international firms like Clifford Chance or Davis Polk, way above the vast majority of the other options in the market in respect of market share.

There have been very apparent efforts to bridge these gaps in recent years. A notable example that most caught my attention was in the equity capital markets space. Pérez-Llorca, a firm we had ranked in tier 3 in the practice area, managed to win a leading role on the IPO of airport operating company Aena. Considering that this was the second largest privatisation in Spanish history, and the country’s largest offering since the financial crisis, this came as something of a surprise. A tactical decision by the firm allowed them to win the mandate, and if we assume that the intention of the move was to prove that their ECM practice was fully capable of handling an IPO of that size, a quick look at its subsequent record shows that it appears to have paid off. This is just one isolated example of course, but it shows the intent of firms like this to move away from the status quo and close the gaps in the market.

In my opinion, what the future holds for the Spanish legal market is far from certain. The UK’s impending decision on whether to leave the single market is going to have enormous ramifications on the future of London’s law firms across Europe, and Spain is no different. I for one am going to watch with increasing interest to see how it pans out.

Marketing-Jurídico7. How does it compare with the rest of Europe and anglo-saxon markets?

Well I don’t really think it is entirely rational to compare the Spanish market too closely with many others in the rest of Europe, or globally. Every country that we cover has intricacies that set it apart from the other, and so we approach every market differently. For example bar regulation in Spain make it very easy for international firms to practice there, but restrictions in places like Switzerland have kept the market tightly knit, and who is to say which approach is better? Obviously there are similarities with neighbouring countries like Portugal and France, but these are cultural in essence and are mainly manifested outside of the confines of financial and corporate law.

The financial crisis has had a telling influence on the type of work that Spanish firms have been involved in, and its close ties with the UK, as a member of the EU, has had a visible impact on how the market itself has developed in recent years. Looking to the future, what will happen if the Spanish legal market has to come to terms with a hard Brexit is uncertain at this point, but it will clearly bring about change on many levels. With an unprecedented number of companies looking to develop a mainland European presence where they may previously have had a British one, cities across Europe are poising themselves to take a slice of the spoils, and Madrid is in an excellent position to play a major role in that.

8. What do you consider to be the greatest strengths and the biggest flaws of Spanish law firms?

One of the things that Spanish firms have going for them is their independence. In so many countries the market has been infiltrated by a number of resource backed firms and networks, and domestic outfits have allowed themselves to be absorbed, or pushed down the ladder in many respects. In Spain this has not happened, and despite a very convoluted, international market the local firms are very much the dominant force in a lot of different practice areas.

Inversely, what Spanish firms do not seem to have done quite as well as their foreign counterparts, is distributing their brands into other jurisdictions. Obviously with English being the international language, there is a major advantage for UK and American firms to mine other markets, but with more than 400 million speakers globally, Spanish is the world’s second language. I would say that the biggest failing of Spanish law firms is their apparent reluctance to spread their wings. South America is the obvious destination, and a region that firms have only recently begun to tap in the last few years.

9. Finally, regarding Legal Marketing and Communications, how are they seen from UK?

I think given that I spend an unusually high amount of time each week researching the Spanish legal market, my opinion on this is somewhat skewed. The impression I get is that Spanish firms, and the Portuguese are similar in this respect, are very keen to engage in marketing and are always looking to build the brand of their firm in a number of increasingly innovative ways going forward, which can’t be a bad thing.

In terms of the media however, some titles, like the Iberian lawyer for instance, are unusually published in English, but other than that the Spanish market seldom infiltrates the mainstream. Although the larger international media titles that cover the legal markets do not perhaps cover Spain in as great a detail as other markets, for whatever reason that may be, there is a lot of material out there that for those that want it. It is sometimes surprising how undetected it can be on occasion, some of the deals that surface from Spain are gigantic, and yet go relatively unnoticed. This is something that most certainly could be improved, and is one of the reasons we are constantly looking to improve our coverage of the Spanish market.

In Gericó Associates we can help you to appear in the main international directories like ILFR1000. For further informaticon click here.

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