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London partners overlooked as A&O Shearman reveals post-merger leadership

Allen & Overy and Shearman & Sterling today announced (1 March) the names of the key leadership term that will head A&O Shearman once the $3.5bn merger completes on 1 May – with no UK-based partners making the line-up.

A&O’s current interim global managing partner and Middle East and Turkey regional managing partner Khalid Garousha has been elected senior partner of the combined firm. The managing partner role, meanwhile, has gone to current Paris managing partner Hervé Ekué.

Two roles were also announced for Shearman leaders: current senior partner Adam Hakki will become co-chair of A&O Shearman’s board and executive committee and chair of the firm’s US business, while current global managing partner Doreen Lilienfeld will serve as co-managing partner of the merged firm’s US business.

It is unclear what these appointments mean for A&O’s current US co-chairs Kent Rowey and Karen Seward. The New York duo, a projects partner and an employment partner respectively, took over from outgoing chair Tim House less than a year ago, on 1 May 2023.

‘I am honoured that the partnership has put its trust in me to lead A&O Shearman as its first senior partner’, said Garousha in a statement. ‘Working closely with Hervé, Adam, Doreen, and other senior leadership, as A&O Shearman we will take forward our combined expertise and deep legal knowledge to achieve unparalleled outcomes for our clients on their increasingly complex legal and commercial challenges, wherever they and we operate in the world.’

Hakki was similarly effusive: ‘I am honoured and excited to be taking on these senior leadership roles for A&O Shearman. I am very much looking forward to working closely with our soon-to-be new partners and leadership team to deliver on our shared vision for an unparalleled global elite firm, centered on providing the highest level of service to clients in their most important matters worldwide. I am also pleased that these leadership roles have been designed to allow me to both serve the firm as a leader and actively represent clients in their most significant matters.’

The statement also says that: ‘Additional senior and other leadership appointments for the new firm will be drawn from both firms and announced in due course.’

The announcements of Hakki and Lilienfeld’s roles close the open questions about how much leadership authority would go to Shearman, often viewed as the junior partner in the merger, with $906.9m in revenue in last year’s Global 100 compared to A&O’s $2.57bn.

Garousha’s election can be seen as a vote for continuity. Outgoing senior partner Wim Dejonghe is set to come to the end of his second and final term on 30 April. Some in the market argued that managing partner Gareth Price, eligible to serve another term after first winning election in 2020, would stand for reelection this year as a continuity candidate. But Price resigned for personal reasons last July. Garousha then stepped into his role on an interim basis.

Garousha’s victory may come as a surprise to many in the London market. This is not due to a lack of status: partners at other firms with knowledge of A&O have described him variously as ‘incredibly well respected’, ‘uniquely talented’, and ‘a class act’. His loyalty to and knowledge of A&O were also well-regarded: he joined the firm from CMS in 2000 and made partner in 2004.

However, few viewed him as a figure with firmwide leadership ambitions. Indeed, some speculated that this perception made Garousha a good choice for interim managing partner with the role due to be contested soon, and reacted with surprise when his name was announced among the senior partner candidates.

Moreover, Abu Dhabi-based Garousha was the only candidate for the role not based in London. He beat both global projects, energy, natural resources and infrastructure board head David Lee and private capital group co-chair and global banking practice co-head Philip Bowden to step into Dejonghe’s shoes. Bowden also ran for senior partner in 2020 – and lost narrowly to then-first-term incumbent Dejonghe. Some have also argued that, as a capital markets partner, Garousha’s practice is further from the core of A&O’s identity than Bowden and Lee’s focuses on banking and finance.

Of course, part of the merger integration process will inevitably involve changing A&O’s identity. Few doubt that finance remains at the core of what the merged firm will try to achieve in its new transatlantic form. But if A&O was seeking to break market perceptions of it as a UK firm, a Magic Circle standard bearer, and reorientate it with the ‘global elite’ status that it and its peers aspire to, naming a new leadership team based entirely outside of London would be one way to do it.

Ekué, meanwhile, is another near-lifer, at A&O in Paris since 2001 with just one year at Clifford Chance before that. He won the role after defeating London advanced legal services delivery head Angela Clist, Hong Kong managing partner Vicki Liu, New York global international capital markets group head David Lucking, and Brussels global corporate practice co-head Dirk Meeus.

There is more continuity on the Shearman side. Hakki only took over from David Beveridge as senior partner a little less than a year ago, after Shearman’s prospective combination with Hogan Lovells fell apart in early March. But he was crucial in coordinating with Dejonghe to get the A&O merger done – a process that took place over a period of mere months before a public announcement last May that reportedly came as a surprise to not just the legal press but partners at both firms.

Last word in the announcement went to Dejonghe. ‘A&O Shearman will bring together some of the greatest legal talent in the world while maintaining a focus on clients, our people and wider society’, he said. ‘I’m delighted to pass the leadership baton to Khalid, Hervé, Adam and Doreen on May 1, and I wish them all every success in their new roles at A&O Shearman.’