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Allen & Overy gears up to replace its C-suite as Morley to retire in 2016

It will be the end of an era at Allen & Overy (A&O) come May 2016 when senior partner David Morley and global managing partner Wim Dejonghe step down from their current leadership roles, with Morley retiring from the firm after 36 years.

The duo have led the firm since 2008, completing two terms each – the maximum any A&O partner can hold a senior management position. And while they have left big shoes to fill, names of potential candidates to take on the management of arguably the strongest Magic Circle performer of the last five years have been disclosed by internal and external A&O sources ahead of the official announcement at the end of the year.

Co-head of global corporate Andrew Ballheimer is a potential contender to replace Dejonghe as managing partner, with Dejonghe having the option to seek election to succeed Morley as senior partner. Others cited as strong candidates include global banking co-heads Stephen Kensell and Andrew Trahair, as well as disputes head Tim House. None of the incoming names have run as candidates in previous leadership elections. All partners mentioned declined to respond to questions about the firm’s leadership.

The firm’s small, partner-driven organising committee will oversee the election process and call for partners to put themselves forward towards the end of the year, after which the nominees will be officially announced and the campaigning process will begin. The vote is not scheduled until early next year, followed by the handover period. The new leadership roles will take effect in May 2016.

A spokesperson at A&O declined to comment at this stage.

Ballheimer covers public and private M&A and equity capital market transactions, and became corporate managing partner for operations in 2005. Kensell and Trahair were both appointed to co-head the firm’s banking group in 2008 and will by next year have completed two terms as practice heads. House, on the other hand, has over 25 years’ experience in litigation, and previously sat on the management board for two terms.

Former A&O capital markets chief Boyan Wells – who departed the firm in 2014 to join SGDA’s strategic advisory board – ran against Dejonghe for the managing partner post in 2008, while Morley was up against Richard Cranfield, global chair of A&O’s corporate practice and co-head of the financial institutions group.

Morley first went into leadership in May 2003 – after battling it out against Dejonghe – for the firm’s global managing partner position. He succeeded John Rink as managing partner after Rink stepped down a year ahead of schedule. He was then elected as senior partner in 2008, replacing Guy Beringer.

Dejonghe led the firm’s Belgium office for six years before being elected as global managing partner in 2008, replacing Morley, who had completed two terms. Prior to this, Dejonghe also co-headed A&O’s global corporate practice, having joined the firm in 2001 from Loeff Claeys Verbeke (now Loyens & Loeff).

A&O’s preparation for new leadership comes as peers also undergo senior management changes, with Linklaters in September eliminating early frontrunners and leaving banking chief Gideon Moore, dispute resolution head Michael Bennett, and Asia managing partner Marc Harvey as the final three in contention to replace Simon Davies as the firm’s managing partner. The winner will most likely serve alongside corporate partner Charlie Jacobs, frontrunner for the senior partner position set to be vacated by Robert Elliott this time next year.

Meanwhile, Slaughter and May’s preparation for new leadership remains ongoing, following senior partner Chris Saul’s confirmation in June that he will step down.

Also in June, after a three-way contest, frontrunners Edward Braham and Christopher Pugh won Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s leadership election with Braham confirmed as senior partner, while Pugh will sit alongside Cologne-based Stephan Eilers as joint managing partner.