Mourant Ozannes is the largest law practice in the Channel Islands and plans have recently been put in place to further its strong Cayman Islands practice, locally and internationally.
As a result, two seasoned Cayman law practitioners have been brought on board to focus on developing the firm’s Cayman practice in London and Europe.
Robert Duggan, a former Walkers partner, has spent the last five years working in London for his former firm. He will be based in Mourant Ozannes’ London office while colleague Simon Palmer, a former Maples and Calder partner, will be based in Jersey along with former Maples colleague, Caroline Spottiswoode.
“It’s exciting and refreshing to be brought into the firm at this point in its development,” Duggan says. “The partners in the Channel Islands are 100 per cent behind our growth of the Cayman practice.”
Both Duggan and Palmer are corporate lawyers, focusing primarily on investment funds but Duggan on financial regulation more broadly and Palmer additionally in finance, and both say they have a tremendous foundation from which to grow and develop the firm’s practice, as well as their own.
Setting the bar high
That said, the firm is up against stiff competition in Europe from the other leading Cayman law firms, which are already established there.
“What will distinguish us in the market will be an overall value proposition not matched by our competitors,” Duggan notes, though he takes care to highlight that value is not a question of fees alone but rather, “a depth and quality of service, which is underpinned by technical excellence and delivered in an uncompromised commercial context”. Palmer adds that this is not new but rather an extension of what Mourant Ozannes stands for and has been doing in Cayman for a long time.
Palmer says that since Mourant Ozannes recently sold its private equity administration business in Europe, the firm has been able to focus its energies on growing the legal practice without the distractions and potential conflicts of interest, which arise when a firm also has an administration business.
“The firm is committed to growing its offshore practices and has no plans to open up onshore,” he adds. “We do not intend to compete with onshore referral firms or other service providers.”
Palmer says that competition between Jersey, Guernsey and the Cayman Islands is healthy and that there is little cannibalisation of one another’s workflow because investors and other users of the jurisdictions are quite clear on the specialties offered by, and the relative strengths of, each jurisdiction. Cayman is the No. 1 domicile for hedge funds, Guernsey is well known for its private equity business in Europe and Jersey for infrastructure and property funds.
“In practice each market is different and there is room for all three jurisdictions to thrive,” Palmer says.
The importance of marketing Cayman
Both lawyers do say, however, that Cayman needs to continue efforts proactively to market its financial services industry within Europe and further afield to ensure that it remains competitive, especially in circumstances where prospective regulation and other measures may potentially undermine the place of Cayman as a domicile of choice, particularly in Europe.
“The Alternative Investment Fund Managers Directive initially did not look great for Cayman as early drafts could have restricted European investors from investing in Cayman funds,” Duggan explains.
“Thankfully good sense has prevailed and the final text is somewhat more balanced than it might have been and the investment funds industry in Europe – and its use of Cayman structures – can focus on recovery from the financial crisis with certainty and seek to return to the strong position that it was in before the directive.”
Palmer and Duggan agree that the marketing of the Cayman Islands in Europe and more broadly has fallen back from where it should be to garner most benefit for the jurisdiction and that, with the resurgence of organisations such as Cayman Finance, marketing efforts should be stepped up to affirm the message that the Cayman Islands remains the offshore domicile of choice and to explain how and why its lustre is undimmed; other jurisdictions are doing precisely this, and they are doing it very well, and we should do similarly and unite behind such initiatives, they say.