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A&O re-elects Dejonghe for a second term after heavyweight challenge

After what was viewed as a too-close-to-call contest, Allen & Overy (A&O) partners have elected Wim Dejonghe as senior partner for a second four-year term.

The move is a vote of confidence for Dejonghe (pictured), who had stood against another heavyweight candidate in the form of Philip Bowden, the City giant’s well-regarded banking co-head. The election also came in the wake of a contentious failed bid for a US merger.

Dejonghe has been part of A&O’s senior leadership team since 2008, first as global managing partner, and since 2016 as senior partner. He joined A&O in 2001, having previously been a partner at Loeff Claeys Verbeke since 1993. He led A&O’s Belgian offices from 1996 until his election as A&O’s global managing partner. He also co-headed the firm’s global corporate practice.

The managing partner role is set to be decided later this week on Thursday (27 February) and is the more open field of the two since incumbent Andrew Ballheimer said in December that he would retire from A&O at the end of his current term on 30 April 2020.

The London candidates in the running are global head of projects Gareth Price and litigation head Karen Seward, two high-profile figures who have been considered serious contenders. Vicki Liu, the managing partner of Hong Kong and APAC and regional head of banking, is also in the race, as is Dirk Meeus, the Belgium managing partner and co-head of global corporate in Brussels.

The leadership elections come at a critical time for a firm having to come to terms with tricky strategic decisions around its US strategy after Ballheimer and Dejonghe were forced to abandon marathon merger talks with West Coast firm O’Melveny & Myers last autumn.

The successful candidates will be expected to take up the baton of redoubled investment in the US, with Ballheimer promising last September ‘more focus and speed of execution’ in its Stateside recruitment push.

The collapse of the O’Melveny talks was seen by some as a very public reversal for the A&O leadership that could potentially have damaged Dejonghe’s bid for re-election.

Since then, the firm has had mixed fortunes on the US front, adding US capability in London in the form of financial services regulation counsel Knox McIlwain as a partner from Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton in September, while the following month losing New York leveraged finance partners Alan Rockwell and Michael Chernick to Shearman & Sterling.

The long-sought deal with O’Melveny also caused some corporate partners to shop around at US rivals, with the departure from London of prominent corporate partners Simon Toms and George Knighton to Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom ten days after the merger collapsed seen as significant collateral damage.

Both successful candidates will take up their posts on 1 May 2020.

For more analysis on A&O’s leadership election click here