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Bryan Cave’s London head talks not being ‘all singing and all dancing’ as firm hires Macfarlanes structured finance chief in City push

After having carried out a strategic review which will see the Global 100 firm look to create three ‘best-in-class’ international practices, Bryan Cave has hired Macfarlanes‘ structured finance and capital markets chief Rachel Kelly as part of a drive to build its financial services offering in the City.

Kelly joins from Macfarlanes after having served as head of the City firm’s structured finance and capital markets practice for four years. Before that, she was a partner in Clifford Chance’s structured debt group for 14 years, leaving to help set up Macfarlanes structured finance offering.

The hire is part of a broader plan with Bryan Cave’s London managing partner Carol Osborne telling Legal Business: ‘We are eager to grow the London financial services practice, and we have being doing just that all this year. Helena Nathanson joined in corporate trust from Reed Smith in January, and she added an associate and counsel-level hires in the second quarter.’

‘We also expect to hire support for Rachel in the near term and we are adding at the associate and counsel level in our leveraged finance practice. These hires are all part of a plan to really bolster the London office’s contribution to what is a strong US financial services practice.’

The expansion in London is part of a strategic change for the firm that in 2014 had an average of just 38 lawyers in London – and only a 12% change in headcount over five years. Osborne said: ‘We’ve just finished a strategic planning process as a firm and one outcome of that was to establish some best-in-class practices globally. We have always been strong in financial services but we want to really solidify that team as one of these feature practices for the firm.’

‘On a global basis Bryan Cave is looking to expand its footprint in the financial services, real estate private equity and investment trusts, and agribusiness and food sectors. These have been core strengths of the firm for some time with enduring client relationships and we are looking to build on those foundations. This doesn’t mean we aren’t interested in opportunities in other areas but the priority at the moment, especially in London, is on financial services.’

There will be some broadening as the St Louis-bred firm builds out in corporate trusts and leveraged finance as well. But Osborne is adamant Bryan Cave won’t over-extend: ‘As the group gets bigger, we will want to add regulatory expertise but we aren’t trying to build a full-service financial services play as it is too difficult and too slow to do that well in this market. We have looked at what our clients want and need in London and that means we are going to add along three lines: corporate trust, structured finance and leveraged finance. We are not going to try to be all singing and all dancing… that just gets too distracting for everyone.’

‘It is really important to us to have the right alignment with the US – we want to build London along parallel lines with our colleagues in America. You can’t stray too much from your core strengths, clients like to see more depth as opposed to a mile-wide, inch-deep approach. We have a uniquely collaborative culture in which around one third of our work is performed in a different office than the one where the relationship with the client originates.’

For more on US firms’ strategies in London see: The Third Wave – high stakes City deals for Akin and Cooley highlight changing tactics