Hot List lawyer: How a two year secondment turned into 11

Minter Ellison Rudd Watts partner and NZ Lawyer Hot Lister Neil Millar was once involved in a football club takeover offer gone wrong when the club lost right in the middle of the deal and the clients ended up in tears

Minter Ellison Rudd Watts partner Neil Millar is a highly successful dealmaker who has doubled the size of his practice since moving to the firm, and has been involved in his fair share of major deals – some of which are far from the norm.

The NZ Lawyer Hot Lister told us about a particularly memorable takeover he was involved with while working in London, where he was acting on the purchase of Everton Football Club, which was owned by 2,000 of its most “ardent” fans.

“The club made the semi-finals of the FA Cup and then promptly lost in the middle of the deal. We couldn't get the documents signed because the clients were too upset. Grown men in floods of tears,” he says. “To be honest, I love M&A because every deal is different and there's always something interesting about whatever industry we are dealing with at the time.”

Millar - a Scotsman - grew up in Aberdeen and studied law at Edinburgh University. He says his decision to become a lawyer was an accident: After attending one of the firms’ pre-interview parties he got on so well with some of the people there he decided to apply.

“I started my career in the Edinburgh office of Mcgrigor Donald but quickly got posted to its London office, spending eight years there learning how to be an M&A lawyer (with some stints in the US and Africa) before taking a two year secondment to NZ,”  he says. “I'm now 11 years into that two year secondment.”

After moving to Minter Ellison from Kensington Swan, Millar managed to double the size of his practice, and his private equity clients include Direct Capital, Pioneer Capital and Arowana Capital.

He recently assisted Equity Partners in acquiring Amalgamated Hardware Merchants.

“I had a pretty good network in NZ when I moved to Minters. But network is only half the battle. You need to have a strong brand to back you up and that was where Minters really helped,” Millar says. “Having lawyers of the calibre of Cathy Quinn as your partners gives the market the comfort that you have the backup you need.”

In the M&A market, recent trends have seen buyer remorse leading to disputes as buyers decide they've overpaid and start looking for ways to claw back, he says, adding that in the first ten years of his career he never saw a single warranty claim on a deal.

“We see them all the time these days. The message is to do your due diligence properly if you are a buyer and do your disclosure properly if you are a seller. But people still don't give this the time and resource that it needs.”

In response, Millar says warranty insurance is on the rise, and he advises all the main insurers in Australasia.

A reasonable premium has led to a boom in the use of this product.

“The market is picking up and with it client demands are changing. The challenge for some firms is to show their clients that they have taken the time to really understand the business they run. Clients want legal advice that more closely aligns with their business objectives,” he says.

In his spare time, Millar is a husband and a father of two “wonderful” kids. He also happens to be a highly dedicated triathlete and is heading off to Canada in September to represent New Zealand in the age group World Champs.

This requires at least a couple of hours of training a day, on top of his work commitments and pro bono work for HOBANZ and a couple of smaller charities.

And as if that wasn’t enough, the busy lawyer also heads up Minter’s privately owned business division.

“Private business is the backbone of the NZ economy and we are focussing on providing services that are tailored for these companies,” he says.

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