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Kirkland alumni gets nod as Sidley promotes two in London following 30-strong promotion round

Sidley Austin has promoted two of its City associates to partner, including one of the 40 lawyers who has joined the firm from Chicago rival Kirkland & Ellis over the last three years.

The round announced today (12 December) saw the number of those minted in the City lift on last year, when the firm only promoted one, but saw Sidley focus heavily on its Washington DC branch, which accounted for 11 of the 30 global promotions.

City private equity lawyer Michelle Tong became the first Kirkland alumni to be promoted to the partnership after moving to the firm in February 2016 as an associate as part of a six-partner transactional team led by Erik Dahl and Christian Iwasko in a daring attempt to build an elite sponsor practice starting from Europe.

Dahl told Legal Business Tong’s promotion was a ‘positive endorsement of our group from the firm’. He added: ‘The London office is growing and will continue to grow organically in addition to lateral hires.’

London litigator Alastair Hopwood also got the nod today, but overall the firm continued to focus heavily on its heartlands, with 25 lawyers minted in the US.

Chicago saw the second largest intake after DC with six lawyers promoted; New York got three new partners; San Francisco and Houston two each; Dallas one. The firm also promoted three lawyers in Asia, two in Hong Kong and one in Tokyo.

Scrutiny of the firm’s partnership promotions in the City has increased since the hire of the Kirkland team, as the firm deploys a very different system to the one the group was used to. While Kirkland’s fast-track promotion model means a salary partnership for swathes of associates at year six, Sidley’s associates are generally promoted about nine years post-qualification.

Although Sidley’s global promotion rounds have become larger since the team joined – from 16 at the end of 2016 to 30 in both 2018 and 2019, Europe has hardly been the focus, with the firm promoting just two in the three rounds before this year’s.

The former Kirkland team has been pushing for more flexibility on promotions to allow performers to make partner earlier.

Dahl said he expected another four to six London promotions in the next three years: ‘Our business is increasing. Sidley is a completely different firm since we have been here.’

Sidley’s most recent set of financials showed the Chicago-bred firm increased its revenue 9% to $2.2bn in 2018, while profit per equity partner grew 13% to $2.55m. Its London branch outpaced the firm’s global growth, with top line growth of 14% to £97.5m.

For more on Sidley’s attempt to build a private equity practice see: ‘The big long