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‘I had strong support and people wanted me to continue’: Bakers’ Poulton seals second term as head of London office

Following his initial appointment to lead Baker McKenzie’s London office in 2021, managing partner Ed Poulton has been re-elected for another three-year term, starting from July.

Speaking to Legal Business, he described the process of being re-elected as ‘relatively straightforward’.

‘We conduct soundings so that the partners get a chance to speak to a small group of partners,’ he said. ‘The message was I had strong support and people wanted me to continue.’  

On the possibility of a third term in leadership, he added: ‘In theory, I could run again. But in my view, two three-year terms is good. It’s also good to have transition and change. There’s no one person in the running to take over.’   

In LB’s feature on Bakers two months ago (Baker McKenzie: One eye open), global chair Milton Cheng asserted that the firm is progressing with a 2020 strategy with three fundamental pillars: integration, innovation, and profitability.   

‘We are one firm, so our strategy is global and what we’re doing in London is very much aligned with what we want to do in the US and globally,’ shared Poulton. 

He emphasised growth in three main practice areas in London: the transactional practice, complex cross-border investigations and disputes practice, and complex advisory matters.  

Poulton underscored the projected expansion of the transactional practice: ‘We want to continue to grow our transactional practices. We’ve made some great strides over the last five years, but that continues to be an area where we have scope to grow more.’ 

He adds: ‘That’s not to the detriment of our disputes and investigations practice, or advisory practices. When you look at them in the market, they are both really strong in terms of size and quality. We still have some real ambition to grow further in that space.’ 

Leading an office of over 500 lawyers, the firm’s transactional teams closed several big-ticket deals. To take one example, in May, global M&A chair Jannan Crozier in London alongside other teams globally advised Swiss construction chemicals group Sika acquire Master Builder Construction Chemicals (MBCC) Group from private equity firm Lone Star Funds in a €5.3bn acquisition.  

Notable hires at the London office include Richard Needham, who returned to the corporate reorganisation team in December after a brief tenure at KPMG’s legal services arm as a partner. Banking partner Anthony Kay joined from Orrick in February and former Linklaters partner Natalie Ellerby joined the firm’s IP, technology and data practice in May. 

On juggling a managerial role and client-facing work in disputes practice, Poulton said: ‘I am still maintaining a very active practice. I’ve actually got an arbitration hearing next week, and then I’m going to India the week after to meet with clients. It’s really important in terms of remaining close to clients.’ 

Asked to sum up his managerial style in three words, he described himself as ‘Consultative, approachable, and ambitious’. 

He continued: ‘When I first got elected, I was asked “What’s it like being the boss?” and I said, “that’s not quite how it works in a law firm”. You have 120 partners who all think that they are the boss, which in a way is true. Law firms are hugely consultative and that suits me because naturally I like talking to and engaging with people.’  

Bakers’ London office relocated to 280 Bishopsgate in October, a shift that Poulton noted embodies the firm’s culture. ‘As part of designing the new office, we spoke to everyone to get their views and articulate what they wanted the office to reflect. We’ve spent five years designing off the back off that, which reflects that we are non-hierarchical between partners, associates and non-lawyers, and that’s created an amazing buzz.’ 

He added: ‘No one including myself has a fixed desk. I can move around and sit anywhere as can everyone else.’ 

When asked about the uptick of US firms making moves in London, he quips that it’s just business as usual. ‘I was still at university and got my offer to join Baker McKenzie as a trainee in 1998. And between me getting that offer and starting at Baker McKenzie in 2000, there was the first wave of big US firms moving into the London market,’ says Poulton. 

He continued: ‘While I was just minding my own business at university, my salary was going up because the first war for talent of that nature was taking place, and we’ve seen this happen at regular intervals for the last 25 years.’