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‘Building on the momentum’: Latham appoints banking veteran Kensell as London head

Latham & Watkins’ executive committee has appointed Stephen Kensell as London managing partner, just four years after he joined from Allen & Overy (A&O).

The appointment, effective yesterday (5 March), sees the banking veteran take over from fellow finance partner Jay Sadanandan, who leaves the post after five years.

Alongside London deputy managing partner Catherine Drinnan, who has been re-appointed, Kensell (pictured) will be responsible for setting and implementing the office’s strategy alongside ExCom.

It is the latest in a long list of management roles held by Kensell, one of the most senior banking lawyers in the City. He co-headed A&O’s own banking group alongside Andrew Trahair between 2008 and 2016 and took over as Latham’s banking vice chair in February last year following the departure of Chris Kandel to Morrison & Foerster.

‘I have always combined the managing partner role with a full practice, which is what I will be doing here,’ Kensell told Legal Business. Except for the firm’s chair Rich Trobman and the two vice chairs, very few of Latham’s partners in management roles get any discount on billable hour targets.

Discussing his strategy for the office, Kensell said: ‘For us it’s about continuing to build on the momentum. We are the second largest office of the firm and we see future growth.’

One of the priorities in London is to build out its public M&A practice and Kensell stressed the importance of combining lateral hiring with organic growth: ‘One of the hallmarks of the mature practice we have is that we are attracting fantastic laterals but also we have a fantastic group of associates. A really important part of the plan is bringing through our London associates and we are starting to see people who trained at the firm make partner here.’

Decided by the firm’s nine-member key executive arm after soundings with the partnership, terms of London managing partners are flexible but they are normally expected to stay on for three to five years.

The appointment of Kensell’s predecessor Sadanandan in 2015 was touted as a significant move in the firm’s efforts to improve gender diversity in its management ranks under former chair Bill Voge. Latham’s largest office – its 515-lawyer New York base – is led by finance partner Michele Penzer.

During Sadanandan’s term the firm grew London headcount 40% to 450 lawyers and consistently outpaced the firm’s global revenue growth, generating about $450m in 2019.

The office has recently passed the 100-partner mark, with recent hires including Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s M&A rising star Sam Newhouse and Taylor Wessing’s TMT head Mike Turner.

Also hired during Sadanandan’s term, Kensell joined the firm in September 2016, a few months after missing out on A&O’s senior partner post to Wim Dejonghe.