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World’s top-billing law firm Kirkland finally makes Paris debut with Linklaters corporate duo

After years of internal debate Kirkland & Ellis is to launch in Paris with the hire of one of Linklaters’ key corporate partners.

In a market largely defined by star individuals, Vincent Ponsonnaille has quit the Magic Circle firm alongside fellow corporate partner Laurent Victor-Michel to spearhead the launch of Kirkland’s second outpost on the continent.

It is a highly significant move for the Chicago-bred giant, which has traditionally been conservative when it comes to expanding its footprint, fielding only six offices outside the US. Paris will be its fifteenth global office, coming three months after launching its ninth US base in Dallas, Texas.

Linklaters is one of the best-regarded London firms in France alongside Clifford Chance. Ponsonnaille’s 17 years at the firm, including 12 as a partner split between London and Paris, featured several large mandates, including the €1bn sale of The Body Shop from L’Oreal to Brazilian cosmetic company Natura and Linklaters’ first ever mandate for PE house BC Partners in 2016. Victor-Michel, meanwhile, was made partner last year and worked with Ponsonnaille on mandates including L’Oreal.

Kirkland’s only other European base, meanwhile, launched in Munich in 2005 with the aim of getting more sponsor work in Europe and to follow key private equity client Bain Capital. It remains a small office with around 35 lawyers focusing on a few key sponsor clients.

Several observers, however, have been saying for months that the firm needs more people on the ground if it is to make a breakthrough in the European corporate space, following its landmark $10m hire of former Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer buyout star David Higgins in December last year.

Interest will turn to how much Kirkland’s entrance into France will affect the local market, and how many others will follow Ponsonnaille and Victor-Michel. However, it should be remembered that the development of the firm’s Munich base has been slow and troubled. The memory of the seven-partner exit to Sidley Austin in February last year is still vivid.

For more on Kirkland’s meteoric rise, see ‘Wrecking Ball’ (£)