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Kirkland continues inexorable rise with record 122-strong promotions round – including 10 in London

In a move befitting of its unstoppable upward trajectory, Kirkland & Ellis  has scored a new record in partner promotions, making up a striking 122 partners, of which 10 are in London.

The overall tally across the Chicago-bred firms 14 international offices is an increase on last year’s mammoth round, which saw 97 new partners created, with 13 minted in the City.

In keeping with Kirkland’s successes in transactional work, four of the new London partners are M&A and private equity lawyers, with Tom Bartram, Dipak Bhundia, Melanie Johnson and Tom McCarthy promoted.

The other City partners are James Esterkin (real estate finance), Philip McEachen (financial services regulatory), Andrea Renold (investment funds), Mike Robert-Smith (antitrust/competition), Michael Taufner (capital markets) and Jennifer Wilson (technology & IP transactions).

The rest of Kirkland’s promotion round have been made up in the firm’s international offices spanning Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Hong Kong, Houston, Los Angeles, Munich, New York, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Shanghai and Washington DC.

The 2,200-lawyer US firm has an unusual model in that it makes up large ranks of salaried partners before considering promotions to its tightly-held equity. Operating a fast track, associates can make salaried partner six years after qualification – bucking the wider trend of pushing back promotions.

The firm had 359 equity partners at the end of the 2016 financial year, and 461 salaried partners. Those making it to equity benefit from one of the world’s most profitable law firms where plateau earnings now top $10m. The latest promotion round means that Kirkland has made up 390 partners in the last four years – compared to an entire global partnership of 394 at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer.

This year the entire magic circle made up 89 partners in total, eclipsed by Kirkland. Kirkland’s ten City promotions is the same number as Linklaters this year, more than Clifford Chance and double the number promoted by Allen & Overy and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in their home market.

Finance partner Neel Sachdev told Legal Business: ‘Our accelerated career track offers our young lawyers a transparent and meritocratic path to partnership.  We aim to empower our lawyers with partnership so they have the opportunity to be client facing and lead deals in the market at an earlier stage in their careers.  This also allows us to see how they operate as partners and to help nurture those skills.

‘We are increasingly competing for young talent with other industries such as tech companies and private equity firms, not just the traditional careers of doctors and accountants. The offer of a real prospect of partnership early is attractive to talent and we are seeing ambitious lawyers elect out of firms with no realistic prospects of partnership at that stage,’

David Higgins, corporate partner and co-managing partner of the London office, added: The message at Kirkland is that we are all about empowering our talent. It is an optimistic approach that inspires energy and confidence in the culture. It’s about keeping and nurturing our talented lawyers so that everyone benefits.’

The promotions are on the back of a particularly outstanding year for the juggernaut, which in the 2017 financial year hiked revenues by more than $500m to overtake Latham & Watkins as the world’s highest-earning law firm, with revenues surging to $3.165bn.

The firm stormed ahead with a 19% hike in revenues against $2.65bn the previous year. Profit per equity partner (PEP) also surged nearly 15%, to $4.7m from last year’s $4.1m, making it one of the world’s most profitable law firms. At the time, headcount rose year-on-year by 13.5% to 1,997 lawyers, while revenues per lawyer increasing to 5.2% to $1.585m.

The pace-setting performance underpinned by booming private equity and leveraged finance markets underlines a 20-year ascent that has seen the thrusting US law firm expand dramatically beyond its Illinois roots to become a potent force in New York and London.

The firm has certainly made its presence felt on both sides of the Atlantic in recent months, never more strikingly when it in December hired Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer private equity veteran David Higgins with a market-setting $10m package.

Other major London hires have included Linklaters’ real estate M&A rainmaker Matthew Elliott in 2015 and Freshfields’ restructuring partner Sean Lacey last May. The firm hit the headlines again in January when it enlisted Cravath, Swaine & Moore M&A star Eric Schiele in New York.

London has been one of Kirkland’s fastest-expanding offices, growing 61% since 2013 to 189 lawyers in 2017. The practice currently generates over $300m. New York headcount has increased 42% over the last five years to 503 lawyers.

For more on Kirkland’s trailblazing approach, read ‘Global 100: Wrecking ball – Inside Kirkland & Ellis’ creative destruction‘ (£)