There’s a changing of the guard among top M&A lawyers in Paris. LegalWeek took a look at who will likely dominate the Paris legal market with the retirement of these elder statesmen.

“To get visibility in the Paris market you need to work on the big M&A deals,” says Yves Wehrli, Clifford Chance’s Paris managing partner. This gambit cuts to the core of the Paris market’s obsession with M&A rainmakers.

The restructuring of the French economy in the 1970s, in which a spate of takeovers and privatisations were kicked off by the 1973 merger of BSN and Gervais Danone, sparked the development of a new wave of independent firms. Bredin Prat, Darrois Villey Maillot Brochier and Rambaud Martel all emerged as leaders in a market that, until then, had been dominated by two firms — Gide Loyrette Nouel and Jeantet & Associes.

From these new firms emerged the first generation of market-leading M&A specialists — Jean-Francois Prat and Didier Martin of Bredin Prat, Jean-Michel Darrois of Darrois Villey, Thierry Vassogne of Linklaters and Jean-Pierre Martel of Rambaud Martel.

Now, a new generation of M&A stars has emerged, largely from those same pioneer firms. Of these, Henri Brandford-Griffith of Brandford-Griffith Baverez Pasturel, Dominique Bompoint of Clifford Chance (CC), Pierre-Yves Chabert of Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, Oliver Diaz of Darrois Villey and Sebastien Prat of Bredin Prat are repeatedly singled out as key players from an impressive list of peers.

“They are all becoming very good,” Martel remarks. “Each one has developed differently, having moved to and from different firms. The culture [in which they have developed] is a lot busier [than ours].”

As Martel says, each of the five partners identified by Legal Weekas leaders in their field has taken a different route to the top of the market. Henri Brandford-Griffith is so far the only member of the group to have started his own practice, having first established his reputation as a leading M&A practitioner at Veil Armfelt Jourde La Garanderie. There he carved out an impressive profile through involvement in multi-billion dollar deals for the likes of TotalFinaElf, Renault, BNP Paribas and AXA.

While rivals have levelled the criticism that Brandford-Griffith is “not on the same level” in a technical sense as Diaz, Chabert and the others, it was his decision to leave Veil Armfelt to set up his own practice that has put him very much on the map.

Since the firm’s inception in 2001, it has grown steadily. Like the niche firms — especially Bredin Prat, on which Brandford-Griffith has modelled his system — Brandford-Griffith Baverez Pasturel rarely publicises its deals or clients, relying more on reputation than publicity. “Henri was very courageous in setting up his own firm,” Martel says. “To create a firm in today’s competitive market means a lot of investment. It is a gamble.”

Bompoint, another rising star, says that he has been particularly impressed with the client base Brandford-Griffith has built from scratch. “[Henri] has carved out a role for his firm as a true alternative to the traditional niche boutiques and large international firms,” he says.

Work that Brandford-Griffith has won since starting his firm includes advising Seche Environnement on its e240m ($274m) public-to-private acquisition of shareholdings of Tredi Environnement.

Despite the new-found ubiquity of the Anglo-Saxon firms in the Paris market, Bompoint is the only one of the lawyers to have ended up in a UK magic circle firm.

His hire came as part of CC’s major push into Paris at the end of the 1990s, kicked off by the hire of Darrois Villey M&A duo Frederic Peltier and Marcus Billam in 2000. Two years later the firm pulled off the high-profile hire of former Jeantet and Herbert Smith rainmakers Michel Debroux and Claude Lazarus.

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