Legal Business

Global London: The Big Long – Inside Sidley’s daring attempt to relaunch as a private equity leader

Global London: The Big Long – Inside Sidley’s daring attempt to relaunch as a private equity leader

Summer 2015. Four US lawyers meet at Nobu restaurant in London. Sidley Austin management committee chair Larry Barden and Europe head George Petrow have invited two City-based lifers from long-time Chicago rival Kirkland & Ellis: private equity (PE) partners Erik Dahl and Christian Iwasko. On the table is a plan to shake up Sidley’s loss-making London operation by building a PE practice from scratch. Dahl and Iwasko are sceptical, but their patience with Kirkland has been worn thin by its latest round of top-dollar hires.

A few weeks later, Dahl and Iwasko sneak out of a Kirkland partner conference in Chicago to meet Barden and Petrow again. Doubt is giving way to enthusiasm: Sidley is prepared to invest an eye-catching sum and give the duo free reign. Six months later, the deal is signed. Dahl, Iwasko and four other London partners join Sidley in February 2016.

Legal Business

‘Only the beginning’: Latham adds more than $300m to top line as Sidley nears £100m in the City

‘Only the beginning’: Latham adds more than $300m to top line as Sidley nears £100m in the City

A year after becoming the first law firm to break the $3bn barrier, Latham & Watkins has posted an even stronger set of financial results, growing revenue at a faster 11% rate to hit $3.386bn in 2018.

Meanwhile, Sidley Austin joined the growing number of US firms to report double-digit growth for their City operations in 2018, hiking London revenue 14% to £97.5m.

Latham announced today (1 March) it added $323m to its top line in 2018, momentarily becoming the highest grossing law firm in the world, as profits per equity partner (PEP) rose 6% to $3.45m. Revenue per lawyer rose 6% to $1.33m, as lawyer headcount rose 4% to 2,540. Last year revenue rose 9% to $3.06bn and PEP 6% to $3.24m.

Speaking to Legal Business, chair Richard Trobman hailed the firm’s tenth consecutive year of growth, which has seen $1.1bn added to its top line in the last six years alone.

‘2018 started strong and ended strong; we saw a consistent demand for our services throughout the year,’ said Trobman, pointing to ‘a fantastic year’ on the litigation front and adding that the value of M&A deals the firm acted on in 2018 was up 60% to $618bn. Mandates  included advising Carlyle on the €10bn acquisition of AkzoNobel’s specialty chemicals business, the largest European buyout in 2018, and Global Infrastructure Partners on the acquisition of the Italian railway operator Italo – Nuovo Trasporto Viaggiatori.

PEP grew at a slower pace last year, with the firm growing its equity partnership by 11 to 488 and its total partnership by 49 to 730. London outpaced the firm’s global revenue growth by several percentage points, although the firm did not disclose revenue for its City office. ‘London had a spectacular year,’ said Trobman. ‘It is a key part of our success and is going to be a core part of the Latham platform.’

The firm made 19 lateral hires in Europe in 2018. In London it added litigators Jon Holland and Andrea Monks from Hogan Lovells, restructuring partners Yen Sum and Jennifer Brennan from Sidley Austin, infrastructure partners Brendan Moylan and Conrad Andersen from Clifford Chance and Allen & Overy, as well as regulatory partner Carl Fernandez from Linklaters.

However, the year was not entirely positive. Chair Bill Voge resigned in March 2018 amid allegations of misconduct. Trobman was elected to replace him in June, seeing off competition from seven other candidates.

Trobman concluded: ‘We are really optimistic for the future, what we are seeing today is really only the beginning, we see ourselves pushing to even greater heights.’

Meanwhile, Sidley Austin’s City base also grew at a faster pace than the firm globally as it announced one of its best financial performances since the banking crisis, with firmwide revenue up 9% to $2.2bn from $2.04bn.

PEP at the Chicago-bred firm rose 13% to $2.55m, the highest growth in a decade as it shrunk its equity partnership by 2% to 334. Revenue per lawyer rose 5% to $1.14m, with the firm’s headcount growing 4% to 1,943.

Its London revenue rose 14% from £85.7m, a performance which London head Thomas Thesing described as reflecting ‘high levels of demand across all our service offerings. We saw some of our investment in transactional work pay off; strong demand in restructuring and regulatory.’

The City office, which has been building a private equity practice over the last three years since the recruitment of more than a dozen partners from Kirkland in 2016/17, saw some lateral movement  in 2018. It launched a London life sciences practice with the hire of Marie Manley from Bristows , but losses from its City base over the last few months included restructuring star Yen Sum and partner Jennifer Brennan to Latham, former London managing partner and finance co-head Matthew Dening to Baker McKenzie, litigation co-head Dorothy Cory-Wright to Dechert and M&A partner Mark Thompson to Weil, Gotshal & Manges.

Eyes will now inevitably turn to Kirkland & Ellis, which will announce its 2018 financials soon, to see whether it has once again topped Latham and retained its position as the highest-grossing law firm in the world . Either way, these financials from Latham and Sidley are the latest in a number of results that point to a booming 2018 for several US firms, both globally and in the City.

Marco.cillario@legalbusiness.co.uk

Legal Business

Global London: Sidley Austin launches London life sciences practice with senior hire from Bristows

Global London: Sidley Austin launches London life sciences practice with senior hire from Bristows

Sidley Austin has today (6 March) announced the recruitment of Marie Manley, formerly of Bristows’ life sciences team, as it launches its own practice in the City.

Manley will now lead Sidley’s life sciences team in London, which will focus on areas such as medical device and drug regulation, intellectual property and private equity and will play a pivotal role in providing services to Sidley’s global life sciences clients.

Manley has a long track record in representing biopharma companies before English and EU courts and led Bristows’ sector regulatory practice, with particular experience on the issues arising from life cycle of medicinal products, including advertising, product liability and competition. Described as ‘a tenacious litigator’ in the current edition of The Legal 500 UK, Manley’s appointment represents a new direction for Sidley’s London branch, despite a wider reputation for life sciences work in the US.

The managing partner of Sidley’s London office, Matthew Dening, heralded the acquisition, stating: ‘Marie’s deep understanding of the EU and UK regulatory climates and her extensive experience in contentious proceedings will enhance our offering to life sciences clients.’

Manley said she the move reflects ‘a new and exciting platform to grow and develop my practice and assist my clients in a globalised world where bio/pharma companies are facing multiple cross-border challenges in which consistency of approach in all key jurisdictions is paramount.’

Sidley’s move comes against the backdrop of a strong London showing, with 2017 bringing a 14% City revenue hike to £85.7m. At the end of 2017, the firm also tapped Simpson Thacher & Bartlett for a pair of private equity specialists in London.

Thomas.alan@legalease.co.uk

Legal Business

Global London: Sidley and MoFo City outposts record double-digit revenue growth

Global London: Sidley and MoFo City outposts record double-digit revenue growth

Continuing the strong showing from US firms in London recently, Sidley Austin and Morrison & Foerster (MoFo)’s City offices recorded a convincing performance in 2017, each posting double-digit percentage growth in their top line.

Expansive global giant Sidley posted a 14% City revenue hike to £85.7m in a year marked by five headline lateral hires for the firm’s M&A, restructuring and capital markets teams.

London managing partner Matthew Dening told Legal Business of his satisfaction at seeing the firm’s investment paying off.

Sidley grew London headcount 5% to 141, bringing in partners including restructuring rising star Yen Sum from Linklaters ], M&A partner James Wood from Ashurst and private equity specialists Wim De Vlieger and Till Lefranc from Simpson Thacher & Bartlett.

‘All groups were very busy,’ said Dening. ‘There was broad demand for our services.’ Along with private equity and restructuring, he described the firm’s regulatory team as ‘incredibly busy’ throughout the year.

Sidley acted on Apollo Global Management’s acquisition of a majority stake in insurance specialist Catalina, the restructuring of fashion retailer New Look and the liquidation of offshore driller Ocean Rig. The firm also won a spot on private equity house TPG’s first European panel.

The London office performance came as Sidley also grew both its global top line and PEP 6%, to $2.04bn and $2.26m respectively.

Meanwhile, MoFo’s UK revenue grew 29% to £24.72m in what Europe managing partner Paul Friedman described as a ‘transformational year’ for the London office.

‘We have increased our connectivity with our global and UK-based clients, and with our colleagues throughout the MoFo network,’ said Friedman, pointing to the particularly ‘robust’ performance of the corporate, disputes and investigations teams.

Deals the firm acted on included advising SoftBank Group in its SoftBank Vision Fund’s $4.4bn investment into WeWork Companies. MoFo also acted for Toshiba and Innovation Network Corporation of Japan on their $2.4bn sale of Landis+GYR Group AG.

Globally the firm posted a 12% revenue hike to $1.06bn as its headcount remained virtually unchanged at 960 compared to last year’s 956. PEP surged 23% to a record $1.75m with the firm reducing its equity headcount 4% to 224 partners.

marco.cillario@legalease.co.uk

Legal Business

US firms continue City growth as White & Case and Cooley see double-digit revenue spike

US firms continue City growth as White & Case and Cooley see double-digit revenue spike

White & Case’s City office posted revenue of $328m for 2017, a 13% increase on last year’s $290m figure, while Cooley has reached $57.5m in its third year in London. Globally, Sidley Austin has also posted significant revenue and profit growth for 2017.

2017 global revenues for White & Case also saw a substantial boost, standing at $1.8bn, a 10% increase from $1.63bn last year. Profits per equity partner also leapt 10.2% to $2.26m, a 10% rise on $2.05m last year. The number of total equity partners grew by 7% to 319 from 299 the previous year.

London executive partner Oliver Brettle told Legal Business: ‘These results show significant percentage increases, building on already excellent figures. We’ve successfully achieved quality, strong, sustainable growth in 2017 across the board for the firm’s key practice areas, reflecting our investment across those practices.’

‘The results point to the increasing attractiveness of the firm to clients who want to place significant transactions and matters with White & Case’, Brettle added.

Brettle said that among the London office’s standout matters was the £1bn Alfa Financial Software IPO from May 2017, the $10bn refinancing of Wind Tre in November and the $2.73bn Nacala Corridor project in Africa, which was led out of London.

In January last year, White & Case also advised Harbour Energy, the energy investment vehicle managed by EIG Global Energy Partners, on a deal to lead the $3bn acquisition by Chrysaor of a portfolio of oil and gas assets in the North Sea from Shell UK.

Meanwhile 2017 saw three high-profile London hires for the firm in the form of Clifford Chance’s M&A partner Patrick Sarch, capital markets partner Chris McGarry from Ropes & Gray and antitrust partner Marc Israel from Mcafarlanes.

The lateral hiring spree in the City has continued in 2018, including disputes partner Hannah Field-Lowes, who joined on 1 February from Weil, Gotshal & Manges where she was co-head of international dispute resolution. Daniel Turgel joined the firm’s global M&A practice in January from Linklaters and corporate partner Dominic Ross is due shortly to join from Ashurst.

Meanwhile, Cooley’s London outpost recorded an eye-catching 22% revenue growth to $57.5m in its third year of life as the firm’s global turnover passed the $1bn mark.

The Palo Alto-bred firm saw profits per equity partner jump 6% to $2.08m in 2017, while global revenue grew 10% to $1.07bn from $974m  and revenue per lawyer hit $1.2m.

Its London outpost grew revenue by almost a quarter on last year’s $47m despite a relatively quiet 2017 on the lateral market, with the firm adding only one London partner.

‘It was a very busy year, we had some very nice matters both in the transactional and litigation space that kept the office really busy, particularly in the second half of the year,’ London managing partner Justin Stock told Legal Business.

The firm’s capital markets practice was particularly active and the firm claims it did more than 50% of UK companies’ listings on Nasdaq in 2017.

US clients generated about 25% of the firm’s London revenue and Stock said the office had made a contribution to a number of US mandates: ‘It is an advantage to have both the UK and US expertise.’

The firm’s UK and US teams worked together on the $1.1bn acquisition of Apollo Education Group by investors including The Vistria Group, which closed in February last year. Stock said its office had also made a contribution on the Snapchat IPO .

The firm’s only European base, Cooley made a dramatic entrance in London in 2015 with a team of 55 lawyers including 20 partners from Edwards Wildman and Morrison & Foerster.

It has since grown its City headcount to 28 partners and 52 other lawyers through a number of headline hires from global rivals. Stock said he aimed at bringing the headcount to over 100 lawyers in 2018 and to 150 in the next three years.

Cooley recently recruited cross-border deals specialist Michal Berkner from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and Hogan Lovells head of international products Rod Freeman.

It previously recruited Mayer Brown senior finance partner John Clark and prominent Sullivan & Cromwell litigator Louise Delahunty .

Elsewhere, Sidley Austin has grown both global revenue and PEP for the seventh consecutive year. Global fee income at the US giant rose to $2.04bn, a 6% increase on last year’s $1.93bn.

PEP was up 6% to $2.26m and headcount rose 2% to 1,873 lawyers in a year marked by headline deals such as the recruitment of seven partners from Kirkland & Ellis in Munich last February.

Marco.cillario@legalease.co.uk

Nathalie.tidman@legalease.co.uk

Legal Business

Ex-Sidley partner cleared in tax case as CPS admits ‘wholesale failures’ while Dentons partner leaves following harassment inquiry

Ex-Sidley partner cleared in tax case as CPS admits ‘wholesale failures’ while Dentons partner leaves following harassment inquiry

Former Sidley Austin partner Matthew Cahill, who was accused of tax offences, has had all charges against him dropped after the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) admitted to ‘wholesale failures’ in its disclosure process. Meanwhile, a Dentons partner accused of sexual harassment has left the firm following an internal investigation.

Cahill’s charges related to investments he made in Zeus Partners, a film scheme setup by HSBC, which HMRC deemed to be fraudulent in December 2015.

Cahill and a KPMG partner, as well as a JPMorgan banker, were the only three investors to be prosecuted out of a wider group of 400 individuals who had invested in the schemes. However the charges against Cahill were dropped in July 2017, before he had even filed a legal defence.

The prosecution submitted a written statement of position to Birmingham Crown Court in December last year, in which it admitted to ‘wholesale failures’ in its disclosure process as well as a ‘clear and stark’ failure to follow certain lines of inquiry.

The admissions came after the prosecution replaced its lead counsel, 7BR’s Andrew Wheeler QC and 4 Breams Buildings’ Stuart Trimmer QC, with a new team led by Helen Malcolm QC of Three Raymond Buildings. The new prosecution team reviewed its case, and then admitted to the failures.

Corker Binning partner David Corker, who was instructed by Cahill, told Legal Business that there was a strong possibility that Cahill will sue the CPS. He said: ‘He’s angry. He had to leave his firm because of the prosecution. He’s pretty bitter about the situation.’

On the admission that the CPS failed to follow certain lines of inquiry, Corker said: ‘When they investigated Cahill, they didn’t investigate the role played by HSBC, who had marketed the scheme. It was as if they had left HSBC to the side.’

Both the CPS and HMRC have confirmed that they will be conducting internal reviews into issues raised by Cahill’s case.

Matthew Dening, managing partner of Sidley’s London office, commented: ‘The firm was very pleased to learn of this outcome and, in particular, to learn that this ordeal is over for Matthew.’

Elsewhere, Dentons has confirmed that one of its partners accused of inappropriate sexual behaviour has left the firm.

The allegations made against the unnamed partner were made around 15 months ago, prior to Dentons’ tie-up with Scottish firm Maclay Murray and Spens (MMS).

Upon learning of the accusation, Dentons launched an internal investigation and placed the partner on a leave of absence. Despite the investigation finding no evidence of sexual harassment, the partner has now left the firm.

A Dentons statement read: ‘During the investigation it became apparent that the behaviour of the partner concerned fell well below the expectations that we have of our partners’.

The departure of the Dentons partner amid sexual harassment allegations follows a similar controversy at Baker McKenzie this week, where one of the firm’s partners has left after claims of sexual assault .

tom.baker@legalease.co.uk

Legal Business

‘Opportunistic’: Sidley Austin taps Simpson Thacher for brace of London private equity lawyers

‘Opportunistic’: Sidley Austin taps Simpson Thacher for brace of London private equity lawyers

With demand for City-based buyout specialists greater than ever, Sidley Austin is making good on its strategy of bolstering its European private equity practice with the hire of two lawyers from Simpson Thacher & Bartlett’s highly-rated practice in London.

Wim De Vlieger had been counsel since 2007 and Till Lefranc an associate at Simpson Thacher since 2008. The pair will become partners and will start at Sidley’s London office within the next two months.

De Vlieger advises clients across Europe on deals including acquisitions and consortia arrangements, high yield debt financings, IPOs and divestitures. His institutional clients include Apax Partners, KKR and TDR Capital.

LeFranc advises private equity, bank and corporate clients on M&A and capital markets transactions in Europe. His clients also include Apax and KKR.

Erik Dahl, co-head of Sidley’s private equity practice, told Legal Business: ‘The hires were opportunistic and part of a strategy to organically grow the practice to make Sidley one of the top firms for private equity in Europe’.

Dahl was part of a six-partner team which set tongues wagging among the PE community when it left Kirkland & Ellis in February 2016 with the express purpose of establishing a City private equity team at Sidley. Prior to that the firm only had one London private equity partner – Stephen Blackshaw – who had also co-headed the corporate group.

The other partners to exit Kirkland for Sidley at the time were Christian Iwasko, Fatema Orjela, banking partner Bryan Robson, corporate partner Sava Savov and tax partner Oliver Currall.

Sidley then re-launched in Germany in March, with London and Munich-based Dahl brought in to establish and lead the firm’s German office. To that end, he raided Kirkland once again for a seven-partner team to furnish the German office.

Sidley secured the corporate work of key Kirkland client TowerBrook Capital Partners with the relationship managed by Dahl and fellow corporate partner Christian Iwasko.

Dahl noted that the new hires will also be well placed to bring their finance expertise to bear on future opportunities in the restructuring market. ‘A potential uptick in restructuring transactions is something that the practice is keeping on its radar’.

Meanwhile Jason Glover, managing partner of Simpson Thacher’s London office, pointed to the high-profile hire of Ben Spiers from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer last year and the promotion of Clare Gaskell to partner in 2015 as evidence of the firm’s commitment to the London private equity practice.

‘We have staffed up our practices significantly, so when there are departures, we can continue to offer the same level of service to our clients,’ Glover added.

nathalie.tidman@legalease.co.uk

Legal Business

Revolving doors: International firms return to hiring season with multiple City and global recruits

Revolving doors: International firms return to hiring season with multiple City and global recruits

International law firms have returned from the summer break in acquisition mode, with Berwin Leighton Paisner, Bird & Bird, Taylor Wessing, Reed Smith and Pinsent Masons all hiring in London and Asia, while Sidley, Dentons and Osborne Clarke are expanding their continental European footprint.

Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) has this morning (11 September) announced the appointment of three new international disputes partners to further strengthen its litigation and corporate risk (LCR) practice.

George Burn joins BLP from Vinson & Elkins as head of international arbitration later this month, while Gavin Margetson, formerly of Herbert Smith Freehills, has been hired to lead the firm’s regional arbitration hub in Singapore. Based in London, Richard Chalk is an international disputes and investigations partner, who was previously at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in London and Hong Kong.

BLP global head of LCR Nathan Willmott said these appointments are a direct result of a recent LCR strategy review. ‘The strategy review was an important milestone for us as a department. With so many of the team involved, it’s meant our future really is a collective effort. These hires all demonstrate our intent to get on with the job and start delivering on a global scale’.

Bird & Bird has added to its equity capital market capabilities with the hire of Clive Hopewell and Adam Carling from Charles Russell Speechlys (CRS).

Hopewell will lead the practice expansion in London, building on the Middle East contacts made while heading CRS’s operations in Bahrain. Speaking to Legal Business, he said: ‘Bird & Bird has a very substantial presence in Europe, Asia and Australia. The firm has an established office in Abu Dhabi and an established presence in Dubai. I’ll go there two or three times a year to help introduce them to clients.’

Carling has experience in Africa and has advised on mining deals on the continent. Neil Blundell, head of Bird & Bird’s London corporate group, said the hires would ‘further increase our reputation in the mining and oil and gas sectors’.

Meanwhile, Taylor Wessing turned to Paul Hastings to bring Mark Rajbenbach into its real estate team.

Keith Barnett, head of real estate at the firm – which now has more than 60 lawyers in its core London real estate group and more than 100 working on real estate across the London base – said the addition of Rajbenbach was ‘very exciting for our team, particularly in corporate real estate and the hotels area’.

Rajbenbach was at SJ Berwin & Co before joining Paul Hastings, and his clients have included Invesco Real Estate, Starwood Capital, Evans Randall, Hilton, London & Regional, Schroders and RRAM Energy.

Elsewhere, Reed Smith has hired Leith Moghli as a partner in its global private equity and investment funds practice in London. Moghli left Kirkland & Ellis in April, where he had been a salaried partner since October 2014 in the funds practice.

Pinsent Masons has appointed Chris Richardson to lead its new forensic accounting service (FAS). He joins the firm after 16 years in the fraud investigations team at EY.

In Brussels, Sidley Austin has hired Wim Nauwelaerts from Hunton & Williams. Nauwelaerts advises on EU and international data protection and privacy compliance, including preparation for the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

He told Legal Business: ‘Sidley Austin is one of the prominent firms in Brussels and I am very excited about the prospect of expanding their global data protection practice.’

Also in Europe, Dentons strengthened its M&A and capital markets practices with the addition of Shaohui Zhang, who joins as head of the China desk in Luxembourg from Allen & Overy, and Antonella Brambilla in the corporate and M&A practice in Milan from local firm Chiomenti.

Dentons Italy managing partner Federico Sutti told Legal Business: ‘In Italy we see signs of recovery in equity capital markets. Antonella has the standing and the experience to allow Dentons to play a role in this in the near future.’

Finally, Osborne Clarke has announced the opening of a new office in Stockholm, led by Fredrik von Baumgarten and Henrik Bergström. Von Baumgarten joins from his own firm Baumgarten Byström Rooth & Partners and was previously a partner at Nordic firms Hannes Snellman and Vinge, while Bergström was previously at Bird & Bird.

Simon Beswick, international chief executive at Osborne Clarke, said: ‘Not only is Sweden the third most active M&A market in Europe and growing faster than most other European economies, it’s a key market for many of our core sector clients.’

The Sweden office means the firm now has 25 international bases in Europe and Asia.

marco.cillario@legalbusiness.co.uk

Legal Business

Global London results: Sidley Austin City turnover hits £75m as Reed Smith sees a dip

Global London results: Sidley Austin City turnover hits £75m as Reed Smith sees a dip

Sidley Austin has seen its London turnover boosted by 17% in 2016, hitting £75.2m for the firm’s last financial year, while other US shops paint a mixed picture in Legal Business’s Global London Report.

Sidley Austin’s solid year follows a year of extensive lateral recruitment, having landed a six-partner private equity and finance team from Kirkland & Ellis in March 2016, the Chicago outfit saw City revenue grow from £64.2m to £75.2m. The firm made a total of 12 partner level hires last year, with hires from firms including Kirkland; Linklaters; Cravath, Swaine & Moore; Paul Hastings; Willkie Farr & Gallagher; and DLA Piper.

Meanwhile, other US firms reported a mixed bag of results, with Reed Smith seeing London turnover drop 5% in sterling terms to £129m in 2016 from £135m the year before.

Firms including Debevoise & Plimpton, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and King and Spalding have all also seen City turnover dip in 2016.

White & Case has remained on the front foot with a 4% increase to $290m, more muted after the firm’s 22% boost in the City in 2015.

Baker McKenzie’s UK LLP results, released today, showed the firm had enjoyed solid growth in 2016, up just over 20% to £176m.

The world’s largest firm by revenue, Latham & Watkins, this year refused to disclose its London office turnover, a year after falling behind White & Case as the highest-billing US firm in the City.

Last year the firm reported revenues for 2015 were up 12% to $263m, however Legal Business understands this year City turnover was relatively flat during a quiet year for its key leveraged buyout practice.

matthew.field@legalease.co.uk

For more on international firms in the City, see the 2017 Global London report

Legal Business

Focus: Sidley Austin

Focus: Sidley Austin

London office headcount: 134 lawyers, 45 partners

Fee-earner headcount change since 2011: +17%

London head: Matthew Dening

Office speciality: Funds, private equity, finance, restructuring, capital markets

Representative work: Advised TowerBrook Capital Partners on its sale of Netherlands-based frozen food company Van Geloven to McCain Foods; acting for Wells Fargo on its £300m purchase of a new European headquarters in London.

‘Private equity has been an ambition of the firm for some time. While the team is based in London, it is a global initiative.’
Matthew Dening, Sidley Austin

 

 

One the biggest movers in the Global London report this year in terms of headcount, Sidley Austin started 2016 with a bang. A hiring spree saw the firm recruit 12 partners into its London team, compared to one in 2015, eliciting comments from City rivals that the firm had ‘pulled out the chequebook’ and ‘put its money where its mouth is’.

The firm has made good on ambitions to push hard to create a broad private equity (PE) and sponsor-led finance offering, and the list of targets on the firm’s roster – Kirkland & Ellis; Linklaters; Cravath, Swaine & Moore; Paul Hastings; Willkie Farr & Gallagher; and DLA Piper – are testament to a year of investment.

Lawyer headcount in the office has grown from 108 in 2015 to 134 last year, an increase of 24%, while partner numbers at the turn of the new year had risen from 35 to 45. The recruitment drive returns the firm to the level of coverage it enjoyed around 2008, after which the firm retrenched from the City in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.

City turnover reached record levels, up to £75.2m for 2016 from £64.2m in 2015. Globally, the firm remains steadily on the up, if at a slower pace than in recent years, with Sidley posting a small revenue boost to $1.93bn, up 3% following on from a year of 6% growth in 2015. Profit per equity partner has also seen a 3% bump, from $2.06m to $2.13m.

The year was punctuated by aggressive team hires from Kirkland. In February it was reported Sidley had landed a six-partner team from the Chicago firm, including the rare departure of two equity partners. The joiners included corporate partners Erik Dahl, Christian Iwasko, Sava Savov and Fatema Orjela; leveraged finance partner Bryan Robson; and tax partner Oliver Currall.

The team was later reunited with Willkie partner and former Kirkland debt financing partner James Crooks, and was further boosted by the addition of bankruptcy partner Jifree Cader, also from Kirkland, employment partner Susan Fanning from DLA, and a high-yield debt team comprising Alan Grinceri from Cravath and Noel Hughes from Paul Hastings.

And, over Christmas, the firm completed its 2016 spree with the hire of banking rising star Yen Sum from Linklaters, who is expected to develop its alternative lender clients.

Sidley’s London offering now offers a package of PE and other funds-focused lawyers. Says office managing partner Matthew Dening: ‘Private equity has been an ambition of the firm for some time. While the team is based in London, it is a global initiative.’

That London growth syncs with the firm’s European ambition. With the arrival of Dahl, the firm returned to the German market two years after making an exit from Frankfurt. Since his arrival, the firm has further added nine laterals in Munich, seven from Kirkland and one each from DLA and Linklaters, although many are still serving gardening leave at their previous firms.

Work has now turned to bedding in the London team and securing the kind of deals the partners were hired to complete.

Key work for the new team has been winning clients such as TowerBrook Capital Partners. Early mandates have included advising TowerBrook on its acquisition of Dutch education company Van Dijk Educatie for an undisclosed fee, led by buyout partners Iwasko, Savov and Orjela with finance from Robson. The firm has also won restructuring work, advising French vehicle leasing firm Fraikin, which holds €1.4bn of debt.

The firm’s new cohort of partners are unsurprisingly optimistic about the team they have built at their new firm. Says debt finance partner Crooks: ‘We know that from a market perspective, for firms to invest, the decision becomes tougher: do you dip your toe in the water and go out with a small offering, not supplemented with the full firepower of a high-yield bond team twinned with restructuring, levfin and core M&A? Unlike some, we are able to fully hit the range of deals and structures our target clients want to be able to use.’

The combined offering of the Kirkland hires, along with Sidley’s existing London unit, is not insubstantial. But with the addition of such a portable and high-value team, as demonstrated by the raid on Kirkland, Sidley’s management will now have to work to bed down the new arrivals and take full advantage of the momentum handed to them.

Matthew Field