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‘The next phase’: McDermott Will & Emery names successor to London head Nineham

Private client partner Andrew Vergunst (pictured) is to become the head of McDermott Will & Emery‘s London office, replacing corporate lawyer Hugh Nineham when he retires at the end of March.

Vergunst joined McDermott Will & Emery in 2009 from Maitland, a legal, tax and fiduciary firm based in Luxembourg, to launch the firm’s private client practice in the City along with Lawrence Graham (now Wragge Lawrence Graham) partner Martyn Gowar. Vergunst was at Maitland for more than a decade and headed its private client department before switching to the US firm.

He will succeed Nineham, who is well known in the City from his time as corporate finance chief at Lovells (now Hogan Lovells), after six years at the helm. Other senior posts held by Nineham include European head of corporate at McDermott Will & Emery and Hong Kong head of corporate at Lovells. Barclays Bank was one of his biggest clients.

Vergunst, who began his career as a lawyer in South Africa, specialises in tax planning for high-net-worth individuals. He arrived at McDermott Will & Emery just two weeks before Nineham became head of the London office and has since become the office’s sole representative on the firm’s global management committee in early 2014.

McDermott Will & Emery became the fastest shrinking overseas law firm in the City during this period, as its lawyer headcount fell by 39% between 2009 and 2014 to 43 lawyers. It is one of just 12 major international firms to reduce its London footprint in this period. Vergunst has, however, grown the private client practice to 14 lawyers since his arrival, with the group now accounting for a third of the London office.

The new leader told Legal Business while the office was not going to set unrealistic targets, it wanted to remain and be more strategically important to the firm.

He added: ‘We will look for opportunities to grow in private client and corporate. Good growth will have knock on effects, particularly in corporate, so that will be the focus. A lot of the corporate work is for privately owned businesses so there’s a very neat fit that will mean growth will be greater than the sum of the parts.

‘It would be foolish of us to expect the London market to stand still and for us to be successful by standing still. We are very well positioned within the London market, given the international nature of our practice, to continue to develop and grow our cross-border work. There’s a lot of opportunity for us here. The firm is ready to move on to the next phase.’