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‘Tremendous experience’: City M&A heavyweight Steve Cooke elected as senior partner at Slaughter and May

Slaughter and May, the UK’s most profitable law firm, has elected its longstanding head of M&A Steve Cooke as its next senior partner.

Cooke will take the top job at Slaughters on 1 May, succeeding Chris Saul who will retire from the Magic Circle firm after eight years at the helm. He has been handed a five-year term.

Slaughters remained a largely City firm under Saul, with around 90% of its partners based in London, and Cooke has committed to maintaining that strategy at a time when US firms are increasingly following Slaughter’s Magic Circle rivals in opting for a bigger global footprint. He has also committed to maintaining much of his practice, continuing to do client work alongside his leadership role.

Cooke told Legal Business: I’ve been on the partnership board since 2001 and pretty involved in our strategy since then. As with all of our elections it’s never a massive change of course. There’s nothing I specifically want to change at the firm. I’m also going to carry on doing client work and running client relationships. I want to carry on doing client relationships and look after them.’

Having joined Slaughters as a trainee solicitor 33 years ago, Cooke has become one of the City’s leading transactional lawyers and holds key client relationships with temporary power supplier Aggreko, computer processor maker ARM Holdings, house builder Barratt Developments, British Gas owner Centrica, drinks giant Diageo and engine maker Rolls-Royce. A partner at the firm for nearly 25 years, Cooke became head of firm’s leading M&A practice in 2001.

Saul retires from Slaughters after nearly four decades at the firm, having joined as an articled clerk in 1977. He has been a partner for over three decades, having been made a partner in 1986. While the firm has stuck to its traditions in an age when rivals have sought to globalise, instead setting up a best friends network of law firms to cover cross-border work, Saul has looked to internationalise the firm’s client base and expand in Hong Kong during his time as senior partner.

His retirement follows that of elder statesman Paul Olney as practice partner at the end of 2014 and Graham White as executive partner in 2013. Then disputes head Richard Clark was elected as White’s replacement, while David Wittmann, who was just finishing the firm’s trainee programme in 1990 when Olney was made a partner, became practice partner at the start of 2015.

Saul added: ‘I have known and worked closely with Steve throughout his career at the firm. He has all the attributes to lead the firm and nurture the special qualities which continue to set Slaughter and May apart. He will bring tremendous experience, vision and energy to the role.’

For more on Slaughter and May see: ‘The new boy – can Ryde & co keep Slaughters’ deal team on top? ‘