Despite previously denying claims that the firm is retrenching in London, Ropes & Gray has promoted just one new partner in the City as part of a 16-strong round while Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton has neglected its London arm entirely.
The promotion of Elizabeth Todd to partner in Ropes’ City private equity transactions practice is another sign of the firm’s conservative approach to investing in London after last year promoting only one full-time partner, Aditya Khanna in corporate finance.
The disappointing showing for London comes after claims from London managing partner Mike Goetz that the axing last year of four of its London real estate and restructuring partners was ‘no way a sign of retrenchment’. The cuts came as Ropes said it would focus its real estate practice on its prized client base of asset managers, hedge funds, credit funds and direct investors amid a recent drift. In the face of those reversals, Ropes pulled off a slight return last year after being hit by a 13% decline in fee-earners in 2017, growing its headcount 1% in 2018. Overall, the firm has swelled fee-earner numbers by 125% since 2013.
Meanwhile, Cleary has also failed to make a splash in recent years, with the lack of City partner promotions this year from a seven-strong global round following on from only one promotion in London last year and the year before. In 2018, it promoted James Brady to its disputes practice after Nallini Puri was made up in the corporate practice the previous year.
Cleary has already attracted negative headlines this week with the loss to Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer of a four-partner New York M&A team led by veteran Ethan Klingsberg.
In London, amid the retirement of the well-respected Simon Jay and Michael McDonald last year, Cleary also won the unwelcome accolade of being among the five fastest-shrinking Global London law firms, with a 7% headcount reduction in the last financial year.