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November 13, 2009 11:46 AM

Early Dividends: Ropes Advises on $5.2B Media Merger

Posted by Brian Baxter

Less than a month after Ropes & Gray opened an office in London, finance partner Mike Goetz led a team that advised cable giant Liberty Global on its $5.2 billion acquisition of Germany's Unitymedia, Legal Week reports.

Liberty, based in Englewood, Colo. and chaired by cable pioneer John Malone, will pay $3 billion in cash for Unitymedia and assume $2.2. billion in debt. The acquisition of the Cologne-based cable operator from private equity firms BC Partners and Apollo Management gives Liberty a foothold in Europe's largest market.

According to Legal Week, Liberty turned to Ropes two weeks ago to handle the high-yield debt backing its acquisition--one of the largest media deals since the credit crunch quashed the leveraged finance market two years ago. (Reuters reports that the Liberty-Unitymedia deal is also the largest private equity exit in Europe this year.)

The Ropes team was led by Goetz, who joined the firm in October along with fellow Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer finance partner Maurice Allen. Liberty is a longtime client of both lawyers.

Jonathan Bloom, a high-yield specialist, who followed Goetz and Allen to Ropes from White & Case (both Goetz and Allen worked at the firm prior to joining Freshfields), also advised Liberty on the deal. Ropes corporate partners Jay Kim and Jane Rogers and executive compensation head Craig Marcus served as U.S. counsel to Liberty.

Despite the loss of Goetz and Allen a month ago, Freshfields still scored a role on the deal. Corporate partner Michael Haidinger and media and telecommunications partner Thomas Tschentscher served as German M&A counsel to Liberty.

Legal Week reports that both Freshfields lawyers worked closely with Liberty's European general counsel Ton Tuijten and the cable giant's head of M&A Andrea Salvato.

Latham & Watkins advised Unitymedia, the second-largest cable company in Germany, led by Richard Trobman, head of the firm's London corporate practice.

The use of high-yield financing for the deal is noteworthy because it comes at a time when firms like Ropes and Allen & Overy are recruiting partners in advance of an expected rise in high-yield issuances, Legal Week reports.

Goetz told Legal Week that Ropes's role advising Liberty reflected the firm's strong track record representing issuers in high-yield debt offerings. Ropes has long been a leading U.S. adviser to private equity firms like Bain Capital and TPG.

But the firm received a black eye last week when a former associate was charged with providing inside information on three transactions in which Ropes advised private equity clients. By hitting the ground running in London, Ropes hopes to quickly put that unpleasant memory in its rearview mirror.

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