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Rapidly recruiting: Kirkland takes Linklaters’ corporate heavyweight Johnson

Kirkland & Ellis has hired a fourth partner this year from Magic Circle rival Linklaters, as the head of private equity in the Nordic region and City corporate partner Roger Johnson is to depart. 

It is understood two associates will leave alongside Johnson to become salaried partners at Kirkland’s London office.

Johnson will join fellow teammates Paula Riedel, who was Linklaters’ former head of competition and antitrust who moved to Kirkland in May, and corporate partner and head of real estate M&A heavyweight Matthew Elliott, who departed Linklaters after more than 17 years in February. 

Linklaters’ Asian offering also suffered a blow after Kirkland hired Hong Kong debt finance partner David Irvine earlier this month to boost its Asia business. This followed Linklaters losing finance and energy partner Thomas Ng in April and capital markets partner David Ludwick in March, who both joined rival firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in Hong Kong, while Davis Polk & Wardwell also hired capital markets partner Jon Gray from the Hong Kong office.

Another recent high-profile Kirkland-recruit included taking Freshfields finance partner and relationship partner for The Blackstone Group and Goldman Sachs Michael Steele in July as Kirkland develops its banking practice.

The exit of Johnson comes ahead of leadership changes at Linklaters as this week a final three-man shortlist was revealed to replace Simon Davies as the firm’s managing partner.

Johnson’s practice has solely focused on advising private equity houses and financial sponsor clients on leveraged M&A and portfolio assistance, including restructuring advice. Some of his key clients at Linklaters include EQT, Triton, Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board and 3i. Recommended by The Legal 500, Johnson is described as a ‘solution-driven and customer-oriented lawyer’ and lauded for his ability in large cap deals.

Kirkland has not been able to avoid losing talent either with several partners departing this year including high-yield heavyweight Ward McKimm who left to join Freshfields, and a trio of funds partners led by Mark Mifsud, as well as Graham White, who joined Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson. Stephen Gillespie also quit Kirkland for Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher late last year, while Proskauer Rose hired M&A partner James Howe in June, and in April, disputes partner Ulrich Payne departed for Ogier’s Cayman Islands office.