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On your marks: eight DLA Piper partners line up in tight senior partner race

A large pool of partners have entered DLA Piper’s first contested senior partner race in a decade following last year’s surprise departure of Juan Picón to Latham & Watkins.

Eight partners, including five from London, will vie to replace Picón in a two-stage election process which will whittle the candidates down to the most popular three before the new senior partner is announced 12 February.

Brussels competition partner Bertold Bär-Bouyssiere, Paris employment partner Bijan Eghbal, and Madrid corporate partner Iñigo Gomez-Jordana join London’s international corporate head Bob Bishop, emerging markets managing director Andrew Darwin, corporate partner and board member Jon Hayes, finance partner Charles Morrison and Iife sciences co-chair Bonella Ramsay in the election battle.

DLA Piper interim senior partner Janet Legrand said the wide variety of practice backgrounds and jurisdictions in the group reflected the strength and depth of the business: ‘This is the firm’s first contested election for senior partner in a decade and we are very fortunate to have such a high level of interest with eight experienced partners who wish to be considered for this important leadership role.’

The firm will deploy a single transferable vote system, split into two stages because of the large number of candidates. The most popular three candidates from the first round of votes will progress to the second stage, which will involve 10 days of hustings before a second vote.

Veteran Darwin has the highest profile of those running, being a member of the firm’s global board and was formerly the firm’s chief operating officer, head of corporate, and managing partner in the UK and Australia.

A former DLA Piper partner said Darwin’s experience and knowledge of the firm could provide a suitable counter to the relative period of instability caused by Picón’s short tenure and resignation. Meanwhile Hayes, a former Linklaters corporate partner on DLA’s international board, was described as ‘sensible and a class act’.

Otherwise Bär-Bouyssiere is also on the international board, while Bishop is co-chair of the global corporate group and holds the same role for its M&A practice and Morrison previously led the firm’s finance and projects practice. Ramsay heads the IP team in London and has worked with co-chief executive Simon Levine for a long time, with the pair both leaving Dentons for DLA in 2005 as part of an eye-catching 11-partner team switch.

Picón, who first joined DLA in 2006 from Squire, Sanders & Dempsey, had been elected senior partner in March 2016 after running uncontested. He replaced long-time leader Sir Nigel Knowles, who last year joined DWF to become its chair.

Picón was one of DLA’s biggest billers and during his time he strengthened the firm’s relationship with Vodafone after being instructed on its €7.2bn acquisition of Spanish broadband company Ono. His move to the highest-grossing firm in the world, Latham, from the one that used to hold that position was fuelled by his desire to spend more time in his native Spain.

Former Spanish president José Maria Aznar also recently stepped down as senior advisor to DLA Piper’s global board, and is widely tipped to join Picón at Latham & Watkins.