Aedamar Comiskey and Jessamy Gallagher, Linklaters
Linklaters’ head of corporate Aedamar Comiskey (pictured above) stands as one of the few female heavyweights in public M&A. The former senior partner contender has established herself as a substantial business generator, acting as Linklaters’ relationship partner for key clients including Aviva and HSBC. With many of her clients selling businesses of late, she recently worked on John Wood Group’s £2.2bn takeover of Amec Foster Wheeler and Visa Europe’s €21.2bn sale to Visa.
‘She’s so dynamic and successful.’
‘She is technically very strong and does a good job of balancing the transactional side and the management stuff,’ notes Ashurst’s Karen Davies, one of more than a dozen peers to laud the Linklaters veteran. Despite fielding the full portfolio of skills, Comiskey wears her status lightly. ‘Aedamar is so successful and dynamic and has balanced her roles with her family life for many years,’ says senior partner Charlie Jacobs. ‘A great role model.’
In a firm with a strong roster of female partners, arguably the other standout M&A name is Jessamy Gallagher, who co-heads the firm’s infrastructure group. Major work includes in 2017 advising National Grid on the sale of a majority stake in its £13.8bn UK gas pipe network. Says Jacobs: ‘She is a real force and the sky is the limit.’ Also cited is Tracey Lochhead, who has acted on substantive matters for Glencore, The Royal Bank of Scotland, Investec and Absa Group, not to mention developing Linklaters’ relationship with sponsor Cerberus.
Vanessa Blackmore, Sullivan & Cromwell
While US-bred firms have made huge inroads in the City they still have a poor record in fostering female partners in M&A. The most striking exception remains Sullivan & Cromwell’s Vanessa Blackmore, who has sustained an enviable run of premium work spanning M&A, restructuring and equity capital markets across Allen & Overy and then Sullivan & Cromwell, which she joined in 2006. A heavily-edited list of clients over the years includes Credit Suisse, Anglo American, Liberty International and Cable & Wireless.
One of the few female M&A heavyweights to have changed firms, Blackmore received multiple citations. Fox Rodney Search managing director Siobhán Lewington sums up: ‘There aren’t many like her.’
Nilufer von Bismarck, Slaughter and May
Firm but fair. But mainly firm.
With the much-admired Frances Murphy sadly passing away in 2016, Nilufer von Bismarck stands as the dominant female operator in the City’s best M&A team. The corporate and equity capital markets veteran has sustained a robust practice across more than 25 years in the City. ‘Technically very strong – formidable and brilliant,’ notes one of many peers to highlight her work.
Von Bismarck has handled work for a string of corporates over the years, including substantive work for the UK Green Investment Bank, Lagardère and Investec. However, she remains best known for a leading role in the Slaughter and May team advising the Treasury on a series of high-stakes interventions in the banking markets amid the financial crisis, the kind of work that this year saw her awarded an OBE. Tactically astute, her old adversary Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s Will Lawes would respond to being boxed in by the Slaughters partner during negotiations: ‘We’ve been Nilufered.’ She’s firm but fair. But mainly firm. A class act.
Von Bismarck herself cites Rebecca Cousin – who co-heads the firm’s data protection and privacy group and has handled big-ticket work for Royal Dutch Shell, Reckitt Benckiser and Royal Mail. Of Slaughters’ junior partners, Victoria MacDuff, who was made up in 2016, is already very strongly tipped. Sally Wokes is another partner to watch.
Karen Davies, Ashurst
The boys’ club of Ashurst’s corporate team was certainly not, historically at least, kind to women – which gives extra credit to Karen Davies’ tenacity. One old-school alumni pledged to ‘never speak to Legal Business again’ if we included Davies in our list. But having thoroughly kicked the tyres on her work and spoken to peers, we are prepared to take our chances. Aside from making it on to Ashurst’s board, the deal veteran in the last three years has established herself as one of the firm’s most prolific practitioners in substantive M&A. She counts Xchanging and Babcock among longstanding clients and frequently acts for the investment banks. Davies led a team advising engineering software giant AVEVA on its £3.5bn reverse takeover in 2017 by Schneider Electric. Notes one recruiter: ‘It was an intensely macho environment. She stuck with it despite the men talking down to her and she’s got her own business.’ Concludes Weil, Gotshal & Manges’ Mike Francies: ‘[Davies] has gone from a very good lawyer to become an outstanding adviser on complex situations.’
Claire Wills, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
‘Pretty phenomenal,’ says one recruiter of Claire Wills’ client and deal list, to say nothing of her position as co-head of global financial institutions at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer. She is the relationship partner for Barclays, HSBC, JP Morgan, Prudential and Tesco, having advised the latter on two substantial carve-outs.
While the veteran Wills remains the most cited operator in Freshfields, the firm boasts one of the strongest line-ups of female talent in the City, with well-regarded female partners across the vintage.
With healthcare specialist Jennifer Bethlehem already well established, arguably the name to rise the most in prominence in the last two years is Natasha Good, who has filled the space partially vacated in TMT transactions by Ben Spiers’ departure for Simpson Thacher & Bartlett in 2016. Of the rising stars, Alison Smith (general M&A) and Victoria Sigeti (private equity) are highly recommended.
While no single article could reflect every outstanding female partner in an area as broad as corporate, there are a host of well-regarded individuals to have emerged across 60 interviews conducted for this article. Among them are Clifford Chance (CC)’s consumer goods head, Sarah Jones, who now works primarily out of New York. In London, young partners Melissa Fogarty and Katherine Moir have already built strong reputations, with Moir in January leading for Informa on its £3.9bn bid for UBM. Says one CC veteran of the pair: ‘Complete superstars… truly terrific.’ Of the established lawyers at Allen & Overy, Gillian Holgate is the standout while Annabelle Croker is the one to watch among its young partners. Having only made partner in 2015, Croker was cited by The Legal 500 the following year and is noted for bolstering links with clients like Morgan Stanley. The career of Linklaters corporate partner Sarah Wiggins is distinguished by advising a string of core clients as well as heading Linklaters’ London corporate practice and membership of its executive board.
While Herbert Smith Freehills has work to do, new partner Caroline Rae is already noted after advising the likes of TSB Banking Group, Goldman Sachs and Lonmin on substantive work. With energy and infra one of the firm’s strongest deal disciplines, Sarah Pollock is another key name having run high-end work for EDF, Macquarie, Cavendish and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners.
Return to main feature