The construction law sector is getting bigger, tougher and more lucrative. This year's league table of the best regarded firms covers the UK on a regional basis, and includes areas of special interest, such as private finance initiative work.
In the London league, the Masons juggernaut thunders on. Its specialisation in the UK on contentious, contractor-based work remains – it acts for 16 of the 20 largest UK contractors. It is also doing well in the private finance initiative sector, providing advice on 50 projects. Other big cases handled by Masons’ 16 partners and 35 assistant solicitors included Cegelec Projects’ multimillion-pound dispute with its cabling subcontractor on the Jubilee Line Extension, the rebuilding of the concrete sarcophagus over Chernobyl’s reactor number 4, and English Partnerships’ successful prosecution of Mott MacDonald (27 August).

Masons’ top spot and the other rankings were established after analysis of information gathered from law firms’ submissions, client recommendations and interviews with lawyers.

The second tier last year comprised only Cameron McKenna and Rowe & Maw; these firms are still there, but are joined by seven others previously in the third. Cameron McKenna, now renamed, has a case-load split between contentious and non-contentious work. One notable case the firm handled this year was engineer Kenchington Ford’s successful defence against London Underground on the JLE (5 February); on the non-contentious side, partner Ann Minogue is again picked out for her “legendary” contract drafting.

Other highlights of the year among those in the London rankings were Clifford Chance’s work on the £500m Hereford and Worcester Waste Management PFI project and Linklater’s handling of the complex dispute arising from British Airways’ World Cargocentre.

The specialist construction “boutiques” such as Shadbolt & Co and Fenwick Elliott improved their ranking, despite intensifying competition from City firms expanding into construction and property. Fenwick Elliott recruited the well respected Julian Critchlow from SJ Berwin & Co. Shadbolt is picked out for its international work, as is the small team at Corbett & Co, who receive high marks for the quality of their international arbitrations, including one case involving a Chinese contractor in Tanzania.

Other top firms in the capital that demonstrated global reach were Baker & McKenzie, whose Jeremy Winter successfully concluded a Taiwanese contractor’s action against a Middle Eastern government, and Herbert Smith, which acted for a US transnational company in its action over supply of equipment to a processing plant in India.

How the figures are compiled

The Legal 500 reached its rankings on the basis of submissions from law firms, interviews with specialist lawyers and clients’ recommendations. This included a mix of factual information, such as the number of practitioners in a firm, and subjective assessments that took into account, for example, the strength and spontaneity of a recommendation. The Legal 500 is published by Legalease, £99, from Contact Marie Kraus on 0171-396 9313 for copies.

Who are the PI experts?

All these firms are known for their insurance and professional indemnity work in construction, but most also do mainstream construction work.
  • Beale and Company’s PI work takes up 60% of its case-load. It has about 30 of the top 40 consulting engineers as clients.
  • Berrymans Lace Mawer concentrates on consulting engineers.
  • Davies Arnold Cooper is known for its work with surveyors, and insurance-related work.
  • Kennedys acted for Balfour Beatty on aspects of the Heathrow Express tunnel collapse.
  • Reynolds Porter Chamberlain is particularly good for architects, engineers and valuers.
  • Demand for PFI expertise expands

    The private finance initiative market was active last year, although it has not yet reached its full potential. Deals are still complex and costly. The top two tiers in the table are firms with experience in standard forms, risk allocation and new financing techniques. The remainder are companies with claims to particular expertise and special recognition, notably in pathfinder projects. Among the major projects taken on, Allen & Overy has advised Barclays on the £19.2m unwrapped bond issue for Greenwich Hospital, and acted for the Royal Bank of Scotland on the £120m financing of the Joint Services Command and Staff College in Oxfordshire. Clifford Chance has played a big part in formulating PFI frameworks, and has acted on more bond financed projects than any other firm. Freshfields helped London Transport reach financial close on the £1.4bn Prestige Smartcard ticketing project, Herbert Smith has capitalised on its experience of dealing with public sector clients, and Linklaters is particularly recommended for advice on complex corporate and financial structures.

    Recommended professional Indemnity firms

    Beale and Company
    Berrymans Lace Mawer
    Davies Arnold Cooper
    Reynolds Porter Chamberlain