Legal Business

‘We’ll continue to look for talent’: Sidley’s London growth streak continues with double-digit revenue hike

Sidley Austin has continued its decade-long streak of growth in London, posting a 12.4% hike to reach $209.7m, with firmwide revenues reaching the $3bn mark.

While global revenues grew 6.1% on last year, with profit per equity partner (PEP) up 10.3% to $4.6m, the Chicago-headquartered firm’s London office stood out with another year of double-digit growth.

Sidley has enjoyed a long streak of revenue increases after making a strategic decision in the mid-2010s, to increase its focus on the private capital sector, a move which has continued to pay dividends.

London managing partner Tom Thesing said: ‘We’ve now exceeded 10 consecutive years in revenue growth for the London office, which is encouraging because it shows our steady and sustainable track of serving the firm’s clients on a repeat basis.’ 

Despite a turbulent transactional market in London, Thesing emphasised the firm’s strong performance across various areas including M&A, private equity, restructuring, disputes, litigation, investigations, regulatory and competition. ‘It’s a good sign: the breadth of our diversified platform enabled us to hit double-digit growth in London.’ 

Earlier this year, London-based PE partners Paul Dunbar and Jonathon Hamill advised alternative investment firm Stonepeak on its agreement with UK roadside assistance service AA, along with AA’s majority shareholders, TowerBrook Capital Partners and Warburg Pincus. 

Meanwhile, London restructuring co-head Mark Knight led a team advising global retailer Coupang on its $500m rescue acquisition of luxury retailer Farfetch, facilitated through an English pre-pack administration process, alongside US colleagues.

Sidley’s City office now has 209 lawyers, a slight dip from last year when it stood at 219 lawyers. Thesing pointed to notable recent hires including former Paul Weiss corporate duo Ramy Wahbeh and Kaisa Kuusk in June. In March of last year, James MacArthur and Ed Freeman moved from Weil, with MacArthur now leading Sidley’s European energy, transportation, and infrastructure practice. 

‘We’re very focused on continuing to build our private equity and corporate practice here in London. We’re pleased with the direction of travel for the firm following a number of senior lateral hires last year.’ 

In the most recent round of partner promotions in London, the firm promoted two partners: Sarah Lainchbury (disputes) and Jonathon Hammill (private equity).  

However, just last week, the firm saw private equity partner Fatema Orjela depart for to McDermott Will & Emery after eight years, while departures last year included investment funds head James Oussedik to Proskauer and fellow funds partner Mateja Maher to Latham & Watkins.

While those exits have inevitably raised some questions about Sidley’s plans for London, Thesing is bullish on future prospects, highlighting the firm’s robust growth and ongoing commitment to recruit talent. ‘We have demonstrated really strong growth in our business year after year. It reflects that we are executing on our strategy in a way that we’re very pleased with and how that’s coming together. We will continue to execute on that.’ 

‘As markets are disrupted and the London legal market has been to an extent, we’ll continue to look for talent in the market and grow our business,’ he continues. ‘Even in the choppier market, we had a disproportionate share of the private equity and M&A business, which also contributed to our growth. It reflects the ambition we have to continue to build our first-class London office around our global strategy.’

Legal Business

‘I was scared that my ability to do my job would be questioned if I revealed any weakness’

Sidley Austin private equity partner Lyndsey Laverack on changing attitudes towards mental health in the legal profession and how women are making inroads into practice areas traditionally dominated by men

Why did you want to become a lawyer?

It actually wasn’t a long-term ambition of mine, at least not in any serious way. I come from a working-class background in Liverpool and studied History at Oxford. No one in my family had been to university or had any kind of professional career. I hadn’t really given much thought to what I was going to do beyond graduation. Shortly before I graduated, my mum told me very bluntly that I had better get myself an income because she couldn’t continue funding me! I scrambled to apply and somehow managed to secure a training contract with Slaughter and May. To be honest I didn’t love it at first – I trained during the global financial crisis and deal experience was thinner on the ground.

After I qualified, I had resolved to leave law and do something else, but needed to repay my (sizeable!) student debt. Working in Dubai for a couple of years tax-free seemed a good way to achieve this, and so I accepted a role there with Clifford Chance. I was privileged to work with some truly great partners there and began to love my job, private equity/M&A deals in particular.

Since you began your career, have there been any significant developments for female lawyers?

Views and attitudes as to what is deemed acceptable behaviour in the workplace have shifted tremendously over the last 20 years. There has also been a clear recognition that diversity in our ranks is not just ethically correct but makes business sense. As a result, there are various initiatives designed to increase diversity across lots of different measures, including gender diversity. However, the biggest change I’ve noticed, is that there are simply more women in senior positions, which is a really positive thing for junior women simply because there more role models and potential mentors in the industry.

Do you think women need to develop thicker skin or exert twice as much effort compared to men in the industry?

No, although I do understand why women may be tempted to do this. It’s hard to be the only person who looks or sounds like you in a room – human nature is often to fit in, or assimilate, and sometimes that results in mimicking the behaviour of others. In my view, it is a mistake for women to try to act like men. Having the confidence to be yourself is key. Your views are equally as valid as those of the men in the room. Do I think women are less confident than men? Based on my experiences and what I have observed, I probably do.

What practice areas are still male dominated?

That’s a hard question to answer and it will vary depending on the firm and the jurisdiction. Historically, transactional practices have been male dominated. The hours are long, it’s pretty gruelling and unpredictable. Balancing that alongside a family is incredibly challenging, especially because we still live in a society where women still very often take the lion’s share of the responsibility of childcare and running the home.

What advice do you have for aspiring young female lawyers who want to enter the profession?

Don’t limit yourself with your own beliefs. It’s quite possible to progress in this career as a woman alongside having a family, whilst enjoying both. There’s a lot of fear that I see limiting female development and ambition, and changing that mindset has a dramatic impact on a person’s career.

Do you think the personality types attracted to the legal profession are predisposed to addiction issues than the general population?

From what I’ve seen, the legal profession often attracts perfectionists who drive themselves very hard. Our inclination is to say yes and deliver and we beat ourselves up if we fail to meet our own very high – sometimes unrealistic – expectations. These personality traits combined with the high pressure of the job often means people turn to coping mechanisms or crutches – that can be alcohol and drugs of course, but it can also be things like food, extreme exercise or shopping. Perhaps we are just a group of people dealing with a challenging set of circumstances in the ways we have learnt how to, which might not always be the most helpful or sustainable approach.

Is there still a stigma surrounding mental health issues in the legal sector?

Increasingly less so. I started suffering with anxiety when I was 27. I would have frequent, extreme panic attacks which would come from nowhere – I could be asleep and wake up unable to breathe. It was completely debilitating, but the idea of talking to people at work about it at the time was unthinkable to me. I was very scared that my ability to do my job would be questioned if I revealed any ‘weakness’ in my mind, and therefore I suffered in silence. Things are very different now. I started talking openly about my mental health challenges a number of years ago and found that when I did, colleagues were encouraged to be open about their own challenges. It turns out mental health difficulties are extremely common in the legal profession, and we had all been suffering alone, fearful about what others would think if we revealed that part of ourselves. That climate of fear only fuelled the difficulty of the experience, so it makes me very happy to see that the conversation has been normalised and the stigma has subsided.

 What initiatives does Sidley Austin have in place?

A few years ago, during Mental Health Week we decided to hold a panel discussion with five partners and talk to the whole London office about our own personal mental health struggles. The reception was fantastic, we were flooded with emails telling us how refreshing it was to see the leadership of an organisation speaking so openly about what has traditionally been a taboo subject.

Since then, that discussion has developed at Sidley’s London office into a two-part programme called Mind Gym. This is a series of talks and workshops which have the dual aims of ensuring  that the mental health of our partners and employees is as robust as it can be, to assist us all in weathering the demands of our jobs, and communicating clearly that we recognise this profession has a high prevalence of mental health difficulties, and that we have support systems in place to help during challenging periods and for individual circumstances. The first of these aims focuses on normalising the discussion around mental health and recognising that it is important for all of us to maintain good mental health. The overriding message under the second aim is that people should not suffer in silence – mental illness is an illness like any other, and we want to provide our people with the support they need to get better, and crucially an environment that does not stigmatise them as they are doing so. Both aspects of the programme aim to provide practical and accessible tools for people.

Sidley has also partnered with an in-house counselling service called The Carvalho Consultancy. We encourage our lawyers to speak to these in-house counsellors who are ex-lawyers and the firm funds these sessions. A lot of firms offer a general session with a psychiatrist, which is great, but having people who understand the type of work and the particular pressures of our job is particularly valuable.

Legal Business

Rising stars: Zina Chatzidimitriadou – ‘It is the one legal area that affects every single one of us and is, above all, human-centred’

Zina Chatzidimitriadou, senior managing associate at Sidley, on why she picked a career in life sciences law

Why did you decide to specialise in life sciences law?

In 2009, in my previous life as a molecular biologist at the Cancer Research UK institute, I experienced the multiple issues and complexities facing researchers and people involved in the development of life-saving treatments and methods. Life sciences emerged as the natural field of law for me and, while I am biased, I believe it is the most exciting field of law.

Legal Business

Rising stars: Dr Chris Boyle – ‘AI is going to have a transformative impact on the life sciences industry’

Dr Chris Boyle, counsel at Sidley, on the risks and opportunities facing the industry

What do you most enjoy about being a life sciences lawyer?

My passion for science led me to qualify and practice as a veterinary surgeon before I discovered that scientists and clinicians are uniquely placed to make a big impact in law, and I requalified as a life sciences lawyer. The best thing about being a life sciences lawyer is that I can harness my scientific interest and knowledge to serve clients on a far greater scale than I could in veterinary practice, to help them develop the health technologies and services of tomorrow. It is particularly helpful to ‘speak the same language’ when I am advising on matters that require interactions with healthcare professionals and regulators – for example it has proven key in assisting clients with NICE health technology assessments.

Legal Business

‘The busiest two months I’ve had for a long time’ – interview with Sidley London team following recent private equity push

Following Sidley’s hire of private equity specialists Ramy Wahbeh and Kaisa Kuusk from Paul Weiss in June, Legal Business caught up with Wahbeh along with London managing partner Tom Thesing, and partner and management committee chair Yvette Ostolaza, to discuss the recent expansion in the City.

So far this year, the firm has made a push to hire in the private equity space, recruiting seven partners in London including Wahbeh and Kuusk who both brought with them experience acting for large private equity sponsors and their portfolio companies on European and global deals. 

Wahbeh, the former deputy head of Paul Weiss’ London office who spent over 18 years at his previous firm, told LB: ‘I joined Sidley two months ago and these have been the busiest two months I’ve had for a long time, and it’s been fantastic.’

Talking about his new role, he said: ‘The move to Sidley helps me serve our clients better, including in much broader practice areas and be able to continue working with them on cross-border work across Europe. And also, to focus on the more complex aspects of the deal, not on the details that every other firm can do.’

Among Wahbeh’s key clients is Apollo Global Management, which he advised on its partnership with Sofinnova Partners last year. He has also advised funds managed by affiliates of Apollo across various matters.

‘I’ve known many people at Sidley for many years,’ he continued. ‘We worked a lot alongside each other and on certain matters, we worked opposite each other. I started looking into the Sidley platform and its trajectory of building up the London office. I thought it would be a good fit for my practice and serving my clients.’

Freddie Lawson, head of partner search at Montresor Legal said: ‘Ramy is an excellent lawyer. Sidley is an ambitious firm with a young dynamic partnership and having someone like Ramy who has established client relationships, is exactly the person they need.’

Since launching its London practice in the mid-1990s, Sidley now has 219 lawyers in the City, marking a 38% increase from July 2017 where its London headcount stood at 159.

It hasn’t always been plain sailing for the firm though, particularly in the private equity space. In 2016, Sidley appointed Erik Dahl and Christian Iwasko from Kirkland & Ellis in 2016 as co-leaders of the firm’s private equity practice and co-heads of the European corporate and private equity group respectively. However, in a surprising turn of events, the duo departed for Goodwin in 2020.

Sidley has enjoyed an eleven-year streak of revenue increases between 2012 and 2022 after making a strategic decision, in the mid-2010s, to place a greater focus on the private capital sector. Its London financial results for 2022 saw revenue grow 26% from 2021 to $186.6m.

Ostolaza said: ‘We are coming off a strong financial year in 2022 where we generated the highest-ever revenue in Sidley’s 157-year history, showcasing that the firm continued to thrive in uncertain economic times because of our global platform, premier talent, collaborative culture, and financial stability.’

Commenting on Sidley’s recent growth, Thesing said: ‘If I look at where our biggest sources of growth have been in the last six to 12 months, London would be at or near the top of the list. We will continue to be looking to grow in London and more generally across our global platform. London will remain a focal point – among other key cities – for growth in the near and mid-term.’

On the firm’s strategy for growth, he continued: ‘It’s built around client relationships. We look to be involved in the highest-value end of this business – whether that’s in the transactional space or in disputes or in high-end regulatory investigations, crisis management – these are areas where clients need support at the highest levels with the best experience that your teams can deliver. Those are the areas where we’ll continue to look to invest and grow.’

Several other partners have also been added to Sidley’s London office in 2023 across a range of teams.

Former Weil partner James MacArthur joined Sidley’s global energy, transportation and infrastructure practice in March, which was followed by his Weil colleague Ed Freeman joining the month after. Also, Phillip Cheveley, previously the head of of M&A for EMEA at Shearman & Sterling, joined the firm as a partner. Sidley also expanded its restructuring practice in London, bringing back partner Kieran Sharma in February, who previously spent three years at Sidley as a senior associate. He joined from global investment firm Strategic Value Partners.

Legal Business

Global London case study: Sidley

London headcount: 212 lawyers, 44 partners

Lawyer headcount change since 2017: 24%

London managing partner: Tom Thesing

Office specialties: Private equity, M&A, life sciences, financial services, restructuring, antitrust, investment funds, privacy, insurance, litigation and global finance

Legal Business

Onward, Singapore: King & Spalding names new managing partner as Sidley backs laterals in the city state

As a growing number of international firms pivot their focus in Asia to Singapore, King & Spalding’s appointment of banking heavyweight Andrew Brereton as the office’s new managing partner could be viewed as a declaration of redoubled commitment to the city state.

The Atlanta-headquartered firm first brought the Clifford Chance veteran on board at the start of 2019 as part of an effort to build out its finance and restructuring capabilities in the wider region.

He will succeed project finance partner Kelly Malone in the manager partner role.

Brereton followed in the footsteps of fellow former Clifford Chance M&A partner Lee Taylor, who King & Spalding recruited in January 2018 to head up its corporate department.

Speaking to Legal Business from India, which he described as ‘a very hot market right now’, Brereton said that his appointment spoke to the firm’s commitment to implementing new ideas and – crucially – to broadening its reach: ‘The firm has its core strengths, and we aren’t resting on our laurels there [The Singapore office hired international arbitration partner Nils Eliasson from Shearman & Sterling’s Hong Kong office in April this year], but we want to widen our focus.’

Pointing to increasingly bullish markets in India, Vietnam, and the Philippines, Brereton insisted he wanted to ‘follow these trends’ and concentrate his office’s position across the Asian private equity and private credit markets.

‘Given the geopolitical situation, a lot of money that would have gone to China is now looking for another home,’ he said. ‘When they’re coming to Asia, more and more of the key London and New York players now want to deploy capital in Singapore.’

According to figures gathered by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority and the Monetary Authority of Singapore, Singapore has, for the first time in 19 years, overtaken Hong Kong as a host city for foreign banks. Commenting on this shift, Brereton noted that a concurrent ‘legal exodus’ has been gathering pace as lawyers followed the private equity firms, funds and banks moving down to Singapore over the past few months.

‘Hong Kong has obviously become more difficult in recent years for a number of reasons, but the Singapore government is quite entrepreneurial in its efforts to make the country a hub. We’ve seen this with arbitration and debt restructuring, and now a sensible regulatory environment is encouraging fund managers to set up shop here,’ he noted.

In line with that trend, Sidley has in recent weeks bolstered its showing in Singapore with major hires. Global finance and private equity partner Daniel Lindsey joined the firm from Goodwin’s Hong Kong office, while Yuet Ming Tham – who, along with a team of seven lawyers, rejoined the firm in Singapore following a five-month stint at McDermott Will & Emery – has become global co-chair of the white collar: government litigation and investigations practice.

Lindsey commented: ‘A number of funds have increased their presence in Singapore recently. The relocation presented a great opportunity to be in front of them. Singapore is already a major legal hub in the region. This is clearly driven by a need to service clients here and, with a growing PE presence in Singapore, I expect Singapore to continue to build its reputation as an attractive location for talented lawyers who want to work on PE transactions and financings.’

Tham told Legal Business: ‘Moving to Singapore doesn’t mean I give up practicing Hong Kong law. Far from it. I am qualified in four jurisdictions, and this is not about moving my practice from Hong Kong to Singapore. We will continue to have team members based in our Hong Kong office.’

Alluding to the restrictions posed by Hong Kong’s ongoing travel restrictions, Tham noted: ‘It is a priority to be close to where many of our client contacts are, and to be able to travel to see our clients (which are mostly US and European multinationals) is important.’

Legal Business

Legal Business Awards 2020 – Competition Team of the Year

The entries were reviewed and our panel of general counsel judges delivered their verdicts: we are now delighted to reveal the winner of Competition Team of the Year for the 2020 Legal Business Awards.

This award is given to the team based in either the UK or Brussels that can demonstrate crucial antitrust advice on a specific case, transaction or investigation, or was instrumental in steering a client through a regulatory minefield.




Sponsored by

Winner – CMS

Cox Automotive and Auto Trader agreed a joint venture (JV) to create Dealer Auction, a business-to-business online auction trading platform for the wholesale remarketing of vehicles.

Unusually, and recognising that the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) merger control process was a central hurdle, the CMS competition team, led by co-head of competition Brian Sher, was instructed as sole counsel to lead that process for both JV parties.

The proposed JV coincided with a core focus on digital mergers by the CMA, against a backdrop of ongoing worldwide reviews into the application of competition law in the digital sector and a feeling the CMA had not done enough to prevent the adverse competition effects of increasing concentration in digital. This, combined with the fact that the JV would combine two platforms with sell-side market shares between 60 and 70% and limited direct competitors, led to a CMA theory of harm that the JV would eliminate a key ‘potential competitor’ to Cox, and that existing competitors were insufficient to constrain it from exercising market power. The CMA seemed intent on making this the first ‘potential competition’ case to go to a potentially punishing Phase Two review.

However, CMS managed to turn the CMA around during the Phase One process by demonstrating that the market shares over-stated the market power the JV would have given the close interaction between physical and digital sales; and the evidence that the conversion rate of Auto Trader’s listings site was likely to be lower than that of Cox’s digital auction platform.

CMS achieved an unexpectedly early victory, and this allowed integration to begin on time, saving the business risks that can come with a protracted competition delay. Such an effective handling of the competition process led Martin Forbes, chief executive officer of Cox Automotive, to say: ‘I was hugely impressed by the quality of thought, commitment, passion and work ethic with which CMS navigated us through this challenging CMA process. Simply put, they were outstanding. It really does feel like we snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and it feels good. Although absolutely the right decision by the CMA, I still can’t quite believe we managed to get this approved at Phase One.’

Highly Commended – Sidley Austin

Sidley’s London office, led by partner Marie Manley, was co-lead counsel to French pharmaceutical company Les Laboratoires Servier in a landmark case before the EU General Court against a European Commission decision alleging a breach of European competition rules for entering into patent settlement agreements with six generic companies.

In 2014, the European Commission imposed fines totalling €427.7m on Servier and the manufacturers, leading to a landmark test case in Europe. In December 2018 the General Court partially quashed the Commission’s ruling that Servier had engaged in anticompetitive conduct in the patent settlement agreements. Crucially, it annulled not only the decision on the anticompetitive nature of the agreement but also the conclusion that Servier was in a dominant position, holding that the relevant market had been too narrowly defined. As a result, the fine imposed on Servier was reduced by one-third – a significant victory for the innovative pharmaceutical industry. It was also the first time since 1973 that the General Court annulled a decision by the Commission on abuse of dominance based on an incorrect definition of the relevant market.

Other nominations

Ashurst/Gowling WLG

The two firms successfully collaborated in representing Economy Energy Trading and E (Gas and Electricity) to achieve a 75% reduction in combined financial penalties imposed by Ofgem for anti-competitive agreements in the prepayment meter segment.


Successfully challenged the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport over a public interest intervention notice it had issued, raising concerns about investments in The Independent and The Evening Standard by Saudi Arabian investors.

Morgan, Lewis & Bockius

Advising Connect Airways and Cyrus Capital Partners on their acquisition of Flybe Group, securing a rare derogation decision from the European Commission to allow the clients to complete the transaction prior to official merger clearance.

Slaughter and May

Overcoming significant opposition to Vodafone’s acquisition of Liberty Global’s telecoms businesses in Germany, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania. The deal was referred for Phase 2 investigation, but was cleared to give Vodafone the largest next-generation network in Europe.

Willkie Farr & Gallagher

Successfully representing Expedia in the Competition and Markets Authority’s 18-month investigation into online hotel booking sites in the UK, specifically into the display of ranking results and the comparison of offers.

Legal Business

‘Natural attrition’: Sidley’s London growth grinds to virtual halt as global revenue nears $2.4bn

Sidley Austin’s City base grew by less than 1% and missed expectations it would turn a profit in 2019, as the firm’s global growth also slowed.

The Chicago-bred firm reported yesterday (4 March) revenue of £98.1m for its City base compared to £97.5m the previous year, despite a 6% increase in its London lawyer headcount to 153.

Its global top line rose by 5% to $2.34bn, even as it trimmed its legal workforce 1% to 1,922. Profit per equity partner (PEP) rose by a more convincing 10% to $2.82m, although this was partly due to a 6% drop in its equity ranks to 313. Revenue per lawyer reported a healthy 7% rise to $1.22m.

The results mark a slowdown for Sidley, having in 2018 reported stronger performances in most metrics, as revenue lifted 9% to $2.2bn and PEP 13% to $2.55m.

The 2019 financial results also mark four years since the firm started building a European sponsor practice from a virtual standing start. Sidley has since February 2016 recruited over 75 lawyers in London and Munich working with private equity clients across M&A, finance, restructuring and tax – an investment of over $40m. The majority of the recruits came from long-time Chicago rival Kirkland & Ellis.

‘We have seen a 12% [London] revenue growth per year on average over the last three years, we are pretty impressed with the results,’ said Europe-based executive committee member Erik Dahl, one of the former Kirkland partners who made the switch in 2016. The City base reported two consecutive years of 14% revenue growth in 2017 and 2018, both times outpacing the firm’s global performance.

Sidley had expected its previously loss-making London office to turn a profit in 2019 as those investments paid off. But the firm could not confirm this had happened, although London partner Christian Iwasko (pictured) told Legal Business: ‘Our London revenue has grown and our cost base has been reduced. The firm is very happy with the direction of travel.’

The London office moved to new premises at 70 St Mary Axe last month, in the building dubbed the Can of Ham, with room to increase its legal workforce by around 20% and the option to expand office space by 25%.

Dahl denied the drop in global lawyer and partner headcount was due to a restructuring effort: ‘This is part and parcel of our strategic initiative to increase our PE and restructuring business and maintain excellent litigation and regulatory practices and other businesses.’

He added: ‘As we focus on more profitability in that sector, there is a natural attrition that’s occurred with people retiring, moving on and the like, and us being conservative in terms of replacement. We are focusing on the more big ticket stuff.’

In terms of mandates, Iwasko mentioned long-time client Towerbrook being active last year, with the Sidley team advising the PE house on deals including the investment in GBA Group. He added that Global Loan Agency Services had become one of the largest clients of the PE practice, which worked on mandates including the restructuring of Galapagos and Bartec.

Dahl also pointed to a strong performance from the firm’s Munich base, launched in 2017 with a seven-partner hire from Kirkland. That office has since grown to ten partners and over 30 lawyers focusing on PE, restructuring, leveraged finance and tax: ‘Just under three years into the project, we have revenues in excess of €30m [in Germany].’

Looking ahead, he said the firm would continue to focus on building out a PE and restructuring practice in the US, particularly New York. Hires last year included Shearman & Sterling private capital co-head Brien Wassner.

Sidley’s London base is not alone in posting underwhelming financials in 2019. New York firms White & Case and Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft both saw City turnover fall by around 4%, to $337m and $41.3m respectively. However, Los Angeles-bred giant Latham & Watkins saw its London top line rise by more than 15% to about $450m.

For more on Sidley’s daring attempt to build an elite private equity practice starting from Europe, see ‘The big long’ (£)

Legal Business

Kirkland alumni gets nod as Sidley promotes two in London following 30-strong promotion round

Sidley Austin has promoted two of its City associates to partner, including one of the 40 lawyers who has joined the firm from Chicago rival Kirkland & Ellis over the last three years.

The round announced today (12 December) saw the number of those minted in the City lift on last year, when the firm only promoted one, but saw Sidley focus heavily on its Washington DC branch, which accounted for 11 of the 30 global promotions.

City private equity lawyer Michelle Tong became the first Kirkland alumni to be promoted to the partnership after moving to the firm in February 2016 as an associate as part of a six-partner transactional team led by Erik Dahl and Christian Iwasko in a daring attempt to build an elite sponsor practice starting from Europe.

Dahl told Legal Business Tong’s promotion was a ‘positive endorsement of our group from the firm’. He added: ‘The London office is growing and will continue to grow organically in addition to lateral hires.’

London litigator Alastair Hopwood also got the nod today, but overall the firm continued to focus heavily on its heartlands, with 25 lawyers minted in the US.

Chicago saw the second largest intake after DC with six lawyers promoted; New York got three new partners; San Francisco and Houston two each; Dallas one. The firm also promoted three lawyers in Asia, two in Hong Kong and one in Tokyo.

Scrutiny of the firm’s partnership promotions in the City has increased since the hire of the Kirkland team, as the firm deploys a very different system to the one the group was used to. While Kirkland’s fast-track promotion model means a salary partnership for swathes of associates at year six, Sidley’s associates are generally promoted about nine years post-qualification.

Although Sidley’s global promotion rounds have become larger since the team joined – from 16 at the end of 2016 to 30 in both 2018 and 2019, Europe has hardly been the focus, with the firm promoting just two in the three rounds before this year’s.

The former Kirkland team has been pushing for more flexibility on promotions to allow performers to make partner earlier.

Dahl said he expected another four to six London promotions in the next three years: ‘Our business is increasing. Sidley is a completely different firm since we have been here.’

Sidley’s most recent set of financials showed the Chicago-bred firm increased its revenue 9% to $2.2bn in 2018, while profit per equity partner grew 13% to $2.55m. Its London branch outpaced the firm’s global growth, with top line growth of 14% to £97.5m.

For more on Sidley’s attempt to build a private equity practice see: ‘The big long