As one of the oldest U.S. law firms in London, V&E has seen its London office grow from its roots in the early 1970s as an international energy outpost for its Texas headquarters, serving U.S. clients operating in the North Sea oil and gas industry, to its work today handling a far wider array of matters.
With experience in managing complex multi-billion dollar deals in the energy industry, the firm’s lateral extension into M&A, high-yield debt, leveraged finance, and private equity in other sectors has been a natural evolution. “It may surprise people who see V&E as an energy specialist, but our broader work isn’t a new thing for the firm – we have been doing this for years,” says Paul Simcock, a finance partner who joined the firm at the start of 2018.
Although energy remains a core part of the London office’s work, V&E’s organic expansion into adjacent sectors – notably infrastructure and telecommunications – means that its knowledge and experience can be deftly applied to a bigger legal landscape to meet demand. “We’re not just going for the scale opportunities,” Simcock explains, “we’re reacting to what we think is coming – adding highly experienced critical mass to meet client needs.” This approach has also been observed by finance partner Lucy Jenkins who adds her extensive leveraged finance experience to V&E’s burgeoning practice. “At V&E there’s a really deep interest and strength in the PE arena, but also in all of the little bits around it – areas of the market that at the moment are buzzing and interesting,” she says.
Gone are the days when, as a lawyer, you could just sit at your desk and plug away – now a client wants to see a full-service team and the way that this firm works reflects that.
– Lucy Jenkins
The firm’s concentrated effort to expand has been based on the desire to deliver greater service – not just an ambition to grow for growth’s sake. According to Jeff Eldredge, a partner who has been a mainstay of the London office for the last two decades and co-heads the firm’s corporate department, “four or five years ago, we realised there was just too much opportunity in London not to expand. We said to ourselves, ‘we have a strong team on the ground, but it’s small. It can’t provide the service that we need to provide to continue to grow our client relationships.’ With that, we made a conscious effort to grow the practice laterally with the very best talent.”
Part of this conscious effort has been V&E’s move in 2016 to their new London headquarters in the so-called Walkie Talkie building, a landmark in the heart of the City, which serves as a marker of the firm’s ambitions to cement their place as one of the leading U.S. law firms in London.
For John Dawson and Federico Fruhbeck, both of whom joined in late 2017, what was impressive was the firm’s existing book of clients and its efforts to expand still further to best address those clients’ needs. According to Dawson, V&E’s entrepreneurial culture and highly successful private equity practice were key factors in his decision to start the next chapter of his career with the firm. For Fruhbeck, the London office’s framework for growth and its focus on culture proved major pull factors. “Having leaders such as Jeff Eldredge around to ensure that new members are soaked into the culture has enabled V&E to develop into one of the most sought-after firms in London,” he says. This has been reflected in the quality of CVs the firm has been receiving, he explains.
Private equity has been one of the core drivers of growth for V&E. According to Alexander Msimang, managing partner of the London office, “we looked around and thought, hang on, through doing energy private equity work – in what is one of the most capital intensive and complex industries around – we’ve already got great private equity expertise and credentials that transfer equally well to other industries.”
V&E’s team spirit has been apparent to Lucy Jenkins since day one. “It is clear that everyone is pulling together as a team, and that in itself creates a really positive and brilliant environment for a law firm. Gone are the days when, as a lawyer, you could just sit at your desk and plug away – now a client wants to see a full-service team and the way that this firm works reflects that. There is the same psychology across the world – we are all going in the same direction and we’re all working together which I think is a wonderful thing to see and is something that you don’t experience that often, particularly in London.”
V&E’s long-standing expertise in its practice areas was also unmistakable to Noel Hughes, an internationally recognised capital markets partner, who joined the firm in 2018.
According to Hughes, “it’s really great to be at a law firm where the “get it” factor is really high. And, on top of that, there’s a warm, Texas sensibility that seems to permeate throughout the entire practice, which is something I think is relatively unique in law firms. Knowing that folks are extremely good at their work and know their practice areas very well – mixed with a down-to-earth way of getting things done – has left a very good impression on me. To me, the firm is as advertised.”
Making it work
V&E’s crucial differentiating factor remains its reputation as one of the world’s leading energy law firms. And, owing to the firm’s expansion, V&E has been able to use its reputation in energy as a springboard from which to grow its reputation in the broader market – appealing to a wider range of skills and talent as it seeks to attract the best lawyers.
But as it expands, the firm has been careful about choosing team players and maintaining a collaborative culture.
“We actively seek those who exhibit collegiate behaviour,” said Rob Dixon, a partner who leads the London office’s recruitment efforts. “So, the challenge isn’t just finding people with the right skills to meet our needs, it’s also finding people who will integrate well and then assisting with that integration.”
The deep-rooted culture of the firm is one that is evident to all new-comers. For Hughes, “there’s a lot of lip service paid to culture at other firms but in V&E’s case, it is genuinely true. I think that there’s a fine balance between requiring people to deliver an A-plus work product and an A-plus service all the time but doing this in a way that is supportive. How V&E goes about this works very well.”
In addition, the firm’s entrepreneurial drive is a core component of how it advances growth across all practice areas. “The difference in the London office is that the partnership is of a certain level. There is a strong entrepreneurial spirit with some of the team who have been here for a long time who have wonderful strength, grace and grounding and this has been layered with younger, energetic partners who are excited about their business and are going out and making inroads into the London market. It is really this combination that sets it apart,” says Jenkins.
The firm’s pragmatic approach to growth is equally reflected in its attitude. According to Hughes, “there’s no pompousness at V&E. It’s just a very storied institution that knows what it’s good at and delivers it in a down-to-earth fashion.”
This experience mirrors how Louise Woods, international dispute resolution and arbitration partner, thinks about the firm – “there are no jackets on chairs, everyone is a grown-up. You do your work and you know when your work needs to be done.”
Looking to the future
By attracting the best the industry has to offer while maintaining a watchful eye on the culture of the office, V&E is well-poised to carry on expanding its expertise, servicing clients in London and beyond.
In doing so, the firm continues its pioneering approach to development and to building on its reputation as “not only” the world’s leading energy law firm.