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Following Brexit: Kirkland bolsters antitrust ambitions with Brussels office launch

Kirkland & Ellis has nailed its European antitrust ambitions to the mast in the wake of the UK’s exit from the European Union to launch an office in Brussels.

Never normally one to be late to the party, the Chicago-bred giant has followed in the footsteps of several peers, many of which have operated a Belgian branch for decades, except notably Simpson Thacher, which in February opened up shop in the competition capital of Europe, to better serve its roster of heavyweight private equity clients.

Kirkland’s new outpost will be led by up and coming partner Thomas Wilson who joined the firm in 2018 having been a counsel at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and has since made a name for himself in the fast-moving world of multi-jurisdictional antitrust matters.

The move will see Wilson relocate from London to Brussels and the new office will initially be staffed by personnel out of the City. It has become clear, especially in the last two years, that the heightened demand from clients in the face of the EU’s ramping up of merger control legislation has made a move to Brussels impossible to ignore.

In April, Kirkland announced it had added $680m to its top line to beat Latham & Watkins yet again as the world’s highest-grossing law firm, as global turnover surged 16% to $4.83bn.

Underpinning that stellar performance largely was a private equity bonanza that saw dealmakers recalibrate and make up for lost time in 2020 after a hiatus in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Profit per equity partner (PEP) hit $6.2m, up 19% on the $5.2m for 2019 even as Kirkland’s headcount grew 5% in 2020 to 2,725 lawyers. Revenue per lawyer increased 11% from $1.6m to around $1.8m.