Legal Business Blogs

Shearman’s McKimm steps aside ahead of A&O tie-up as US firms continue to snap up top London talent

With just a month to go until the A&O Shearman tie-up goes live, Shearman has announced that Europe managing partner and EMEA finance team leader Ward McKimm is retiring, marking one of the highest-profile pre-merger exits to date.

‘Shearman & Sterling and Ward McKimm jointly confirm that, after a nearly 30-year career as a leading high-yield and leveraged finance lawyer based in London, he has decided to retire,’ a firm statement confirmed. ‘Shearman & Sterling thanks Ward for his many years of service to the firm and its clients, and wishes him the best in his next chapter. Ward’s retirement will take effect in a few weeks as he transitions work to other partners.’

In the Legal 500 Hall of Fame for high-yield finance in London, McKimm is one of Shearman’s best-known partners in the City. He joined Shearman in New York in 1997, relocating to London in 1999, where he made partner in 2005. He led the firm’s capital markets and corporate groups in London before moving to Kirkland & Ellis in 2011, then to Freshfields in 2015 (in a move that saw Freshfields take the then-rare step of breaking its lockstep), before returning to Shearman in 2018.

His exit from Shearman comes in the final stages of the firm’s merger with Allen & Overy, which is set to go live on 1 May. Both firms reported overwhelming partner support for the combination in a vote that closed in October, and recently confirmed new post-merger leadership, with senior partner-elect Khalid Garousha and managing partner-elect Hervé Ekué – based in Abu Dhabi and Paris respectively – taking the two top spots ahead of candidates in the UK and the US.

Elsewhere, senior private equity partner Graham White has left Fried Frank for McDermott. White, who was London managing partner of Fried Frank until 2017 and headed the firm’s European private equity practice until his departure, joined Fried Frank in 2014 from Kirkland, where he served as de facto London head from 2012 after joining the US giant from Linklaters in 2006.

The move comes on the heels of McDermott’s hire of Cooley cross-border M&A head Michal Berkner in February, and is further evidence of the firm’s ambition to grow its London transactional offering. Managing partner Hamid Yunis said in a statement that White ‘will work closely with me, our London transactional heads and our global senior leadership to help grow the firm’s presence and transactional capabilities in the UK market and provide senior level support to our practices.’

Paul Weiss has continued to build in London with its hire of private equity M&A specialist Oliver Marcuse, who made partner at Clifford Chance in May 2022. The hire further deepens the office’s bench strength in its core PE M&A practice, with Marcuse bringing experience acting on transactions from leveraged buyouts to secondaries for clients including CVC and Cinven, where he also spent time on secondment.

The busy market for infrastructure laterals is showing no signs of slowing, with Simpson Thacher & Bartlett bringing over partner duo Paul Hibbert and Emma Sergison from Weil. Both lawyers bring specialist experience in infrastructure financing, with Hibbert ranked as a Legal 500 leading individual for the practice area. Serginson is the more junior of the two, making partner last year, while Hibbert spent twelve years at Clifford Chance and then Baker McKenzie before joining Weil in 2017.

Other notable team moves of late have included Katten’s hire of Curtis Mallet-Prevost Colt & Mosle investment management practice co-leads Thomas Laurer, Ryan Hansen and Daniel Lewin. Laurer and Hansen focus on financial markets and funds, while Lewin is a transactional tax planning specialist. All three have particular expertise in transatlantic work, and they bring Katten’s London office partner headcount to 20.

‘We’re aiming to grow in all areas – personnel, revenue, other financial metrics, our client roster’, Katten’s London managing partner Christopher Hitchins told Legal Business. ‘Financial services and transactional work are our core strengths, and they’re what we’re building around. In my three years in this role I have continued to align what we’re doing in London with what we’re doing in the States. These three hires fit squarely into that.’

Citing Laurer and Hansen’s New York qualifications as well as their transatlantic client base, Hitchins noted: ‘It was very easy to get our colleagues in the US excited about the hires, as well as the London office, because they fit so well with our strategy. The practice groups at the firm have a strong management role, and the financial services and transactions practice groups have a strong historical link with London and a clear vision for how to build in London in line with what we have in the US.’

This transatlantic link is key to Katten’s strategy. Said Hitchins: ‘Where we’re acting for asset managers in the US, we’re looking at how we can assist them on their international workflow as well. We may already be doing some of that work, but we know that we could be doing a greater proportion, because some of our peer firms in London could be doing work for them. We want to demonstrate to clients that we can create additional value for them by taking more of that share.’

Elsewhere, DLA Piper has hired Freshfields senior associate Carl Hotton as a partner for its insurance sector team in London. Hotton specialises in transactional work, with a particular focus on the financial services, insurance, and fintech sectors.

Charles Russell Speechlys has hired Travers Smith property disputes head Andrew Ross into its real estate disputes team, where he will work alongside practice head David Haines. ‘We’ve had a growth strategy that has continued from my joining the firm 24 years ago to Andrew’s joining now, and it will continue moving forwards’, said Haines. ‘Andrew’s hire fits squarely within our strategy, and we’re excited at the opportunity to continue to build up, not only in commercial real estate and construction, but on the private capital side too.’

The move marks another departure for Travers, which lost a total of ten partners in London in 2023 according to recruitment firm Edwards Gibson’s partner moves report for the year. These included most notably the departures of Ed Ford, Sacha Gofton-Salmond, and Stephanie Biggs to Simpson Thacher in February. Ross’s departure leaves the firm without any dedicated property disputes partners.

Pinsent Masons has strengthened its finance team in London with the appointment of senior finance partner Nick Tostivin to lead the department. After close to twenty years at the firm, Tostivin joins from Baker McKenzie, where he notably led both the London and EMEA finance groups. His practice focuses on trade and export finance, while he also has substantial experience advising on ESG-related finance matters.

Finally in London, Eversheds Sutherland has brought in Slaughter and May senior counsel Tim Fosh into its financial services regulatory group as a partner.

Global 100 firms have also been active in overseas hires. White & Case hired Noerr compliance and investigations practice group co-head Sophia Habbe into its Frankfurt office, where she will join the firm’s white-collar practice, In Paris, Reed Smith has hired Weil counsel Ilana Smadja as a financial industry group partner.