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Ashurst to consider non-lawyers for global head position as partner contenders emerge

Candidates to replace Ashurst‘s global managing partner have emerged as Legal Business can reveal the board is using a headhunter to find external non-lawyers to be considered for the role.

Although one of many options, recruiting a non-lawyer as the firm’s next managing partner would be a first for Ashurst as it moves into its next phase, which some have called a shift toward a more ‘process-driven’ firm.

As one partner said: ‘Bringing in non-lawyers is about control, discipline and greater focus on profit.’

It is understood the firm is using a headhunter to find potential candidates in chief executive or chief operating officer roles, either in law firms or other professional services firms.

Current global head James Collis took the reins in May 2012 and will stand down at the end of his four-year stint in May this year to return to practice. During his tenure, Collis took a more operational role and oversaw the firm’s finances and the practical areas of running the business.

The global head role will work closely with the firm’s board which already includes two independent non-lawyer members. In June 2013, non-lawyers Robert Gillespie, the former director general of the Panel on Takeovers and Mergers, David Turner, the former chairman of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, joined Ashurst’s board to provide external advice and expertise for the first time.

The board members currently are Collis, chairman Ben Tidswell, vice chairman Mary Padbury, chief financial officer Brian Dunlop, partners Cristina Calvo, Mark Vickers, Jennie Mansfield, Roger Davies and Angela Pearson and independent members Gillespie and Turner.

While the firm is open to considering an external non-lawyer to sit as its global head, some partners have signalled some noteworthy internal candidates including Simon Beddow, global co-head of the firm’s corporate, competition and tax division, who has been a partner in the corporate department in London since 1998.

Energy partner Logan Mair who is responsible for the development and implementation of Ashurst’s global client strategy has also been cited a credible candidate by numerous partners, while others have cited equity capital markets head Nicholas Holmes and the former head of Ashurst’s Middle East practice and corporate partner Nick Williamson.

Another name mentioned is Perth-based global co-head of the energy, resources, real estate and infrastructure division Geoff Gishubl, although one partner said that having a leader that was ‘not based in the City could be problematic as the head needs regular contact with the other key roles that are London-based’.

Ashurst previously had Australia-based John Carrington as its managing partner down under, who retired from the firm in October 2014. No successor to the role of Australian managing partner was appointed and the responsibilities of the position were shared across the firm’s Australia-based leadership group.

A joint leadership team with heads in both the UK and Australia is not under consideration. ‘There is an awful amount of travel but the board decided a long time ago that a single head is the best way to go,’ said one partner.