A specialist in representing banks restructuring and special situations, Matthieu Barthélemy has joined top French firm De Gaulle Fleurance & Associés, which now has two partners dedicated to distressed companies. In this exclusive interview, Leaders League talks to both Barthélemy and founding partner Louis de Gaulle.
Leaders League. Why did you choose to join De Gaulle Fleurance & Associés?
Matthieu Barthélemy. DeGaulle Fleurance & Associés is a firm on the up with young and enterprising lawyers. In coming here I have rediscovered the passion I had when I began my career at my previous firm as a young staff member in 2000. From a certain point of view you could call it a professional mid-life crisis! Having been here a while now, I can honestly say this firm’s famed business development orientated dynamism and teamwork is alive and well.
Louis de Gaulle. The firm has adopted a practical approach: lawyers, in order to flourish, want to have personal job satisfaction and an effective team environment. In order for a firm to succeed it needs to ally its brand with a strong collective. It’s not enough just to fill the ranks with expert professionals, you have to know how to best organize them on a given case. The client appreciates the representation of an experienced lawyer who is firing on all cylinders. Concerning litigation and restructuring, we have renowned lawyers. Our greatest asset is that they bring their ‘A’ game every day to provide the best level of service and have the biggest impact on the market. The arrival of Matthieu fully conforms with this strategy.
Did the originality of the firm also play a part in convincing you to join?
M.B. Of course. The harmonious collective approach here is also a big plus. Consistency of quality service is the firm’s stock-in-trade. The teams do not function as autonomous chapters, without a direct line of guiding principles. The homogenous structure is vital for efficient collaboration between the partners and staff. And the fact the firm is corporate in nature also helps.
Matthieu, you represent bank creditors in special situations, how will your practice slot into the existing structure at the firm.
L.de G. The firm has already worked with a number of banking establishments, on issues ranging from financing, projects and corporate, to litigation and regulatory. Matthieu is another string to our bow in that we can now handle these types of special situations for clients.
M.B. I know the firm’s clients as I’ve already worked with them, whether individually or collectively, and I hope that we will be their go-to firm for cases of turnaround and organization.
What are the objectives of the structure division over the next three years?
L. de G. Look, obviously if we were to become the leader in the sector we would be delighted, but that’s not our number one objective. We want to be able to offer services in wider range of sectors, such as banking and industrials etc. Restructuring is a gateway to M&A and litigation. However litigation remains a staple of the legal profession and is a priority for our firm. Having a practice that’s strong in restructuring helps us stay strong in M&A and transactions and to maintain a high international profile.
M.B. Actually, restructuring often arises out of litigation and M&A. Often lawyers who practice it are not experts in just one area. Other than insolvency law, they must know their way around company law, banking law, litigation, civil procedure or even taxation, to understand what’s at stake in a given case.
The fear that the next economic crisis is just around the corner has seen many firms beef up their insolvency departments. How do you view this approach?
L. de G. With taxes going back up, refinancing is going to get more complicated. From this point of view, a real economic slowdown and resulting increase in bankruptcies is not something we can rule out. But it is by no means a certainty.
M.B. We need to stop taking the number of lawyers involved restructuring as a bellwether for the economy, there isn’t necessarily a correlation between the two. The most significant restructuring cases that firms are called to advise on, don’t always happen when the economy is in the doldrums; off the top of my head there was the restructuring of Vivendi and Alstom, on which I was lucky enough to work in quick succession in 2001 and 2004, or Eurotunnel ‒ even if these types of cases are somewhat the exception! Companies get into difficulties not just because of economic and financial vagaries. It can be because of a problem with the business model, an inability of the model to adapt to changes in the market, the extreme volatility of certain markets or even industrial accidents.
What developments are the pipeline for the firm in the second half of 2018?
L de G. They are many, varied and, for the most part, classified! But in terms of internal organization, what I can say is that we have a program of projects in development under the FabLab principle. These are initiatives undertaken by groups of lawyers working on interdepartmental projects that require an analysis of the market before we can think about marketing them. We have created a veritable crucible at the firm and by allowing everyone to contribute by pitching ideas that are important to them, we can explore new subjects. It’s a great opportunity to pool our strengths bring together lawyers with common interests and complementary skills.
Interview by Sybille Vié, translation by Simon McGeady.