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Shearman partners overlooked in Allen & Overy leadership race

In a move that may not come as a surprise to most, Allen & Overy (A&O) has unveiled a list of contenders for the managing and senior partner roles, with no Shearman & Sterling partners in the race.

Private capital group co-chair and global banking practice co-head Philip Bowden (pictured) is among three lawyers vying for Wim Dejonghe’s crown as senior partner, alongside global projects, energy, natural resources and infrastructure board head David Lee and Abu Dhabi capital markets partner Khalid Garousha, who stepped into the role of interim managing partner in July following Gareth Price’s shock departure earlier in the month. Both Bowden and Lee are based in the firm’s London office.

Meanwhile, there are five candidates for the role of managing partner: London-based advanced legal services delivery head Angela Clist, Paris managing partner Hervé Ekué, Hong Kong managing partner Vicki Liu, New York-based global international capital markets group head David Lucking, and Brussels-based global corporate practice co-head Dirk Meeus.

‘Voting will take place in the elections for the firm’s next senior partner and managing partner in February 2024’, A&O said in its Monday statement. ‘The successful candidates will take up their posts on 1 May 2024 and serve in this capacity through 30 April 2028 for A&O Shearman, following the completion of the merger to become A&O Shearman.’

The statement continued: ‘Shearman & Sterling partners will hold very significant leadership positions globally and regionally in the combined firm, including within the firm’s executive committee, board, practice group and regional leadership.’

Continuing the theme of A&O clearly being in the driving seat of this combination, Shearman partners will not be eligible to vote.

Several of the candidates are familiar from A&O leadership elections past. Bowden ran a tight race against then-one-term incumbent Dejonghe in 2020. Both Liu and Meeus, meanwhile, ran for the managing partner role that went to Price last time around. Garousha’s decision to run will come as a surprise to some, as partners both within and without the firm have previously commented that he was not seen as someone with leadership ambitions.

The announcement is the clearest official statement yet on how the merged firm will operate. Few will be surprised to see A&O retain the lion’s share of control. It is by far the bigger firm in terms of both revenue and headcount: its turnover was $2.57bn to Shearman’s $906.9m, and it has 2,551 lawyers to Shearman’s 722, according to figures in this year’s Global 100 report. This disparity in size has led some in the market to view the merger as, in the words of one firm’s London leader, ‘more like an acquisition’. And the promise of ‘very significant leadership positions’ for Shearman’s management will do little to alter this perception.

The two firms remain separate until the merger completes, scheduled for no later than 1 May 2024 and subject to customary closing conditions and regulatory approvals. And regulatory concerns in some jurisdictions would prohibit Shearman partners from participating in the selection of leadership at A&O. However, A&O’s statement that each of the winners of the elections will stay in their respective roles in the merged A&O Shearman for their full four-year terms clearly indicates that it is the dominant party in the combination.

The announcement also puts to bed earlier speculation that Dejonghe would find a way to stay on as senior partner beyond his mandated two terms. The statement’s only mention of Dejonghe is to note that his term will end on 30 April 2024 along with Garousha’s. However, Dejonghe may yet remain close to the c-suite. Those ‘very significant leadership positions’ are unlikely to be filled entirely by Shearman partners. Market commentators remain divided on what they predict Dejonghe will do next: some believe that he will take the chance to walk away after pulling off a successful transatlantic merger, while others argue that he will stay around to help steer the merged firm through what is sure to be a lengthy integration process.

The results of the elections will be announced on 1 March 2024.