All change at the top of NY’s elite

All change at the top of NY’s eliteA&O, PAUL WEISS AND WILLKIE

New managing partners abound in New York

Just like buses, you wait months for a new managing partner, then a bunch come along at once.

Four, actually. On 24 April Willkie Farr & Gallagher announced that its chairman since 1987 Jack Nusbaum would stand down. In his place, late next year, will come New York corporate partners Tom Cerabino and Steve Gartner.

The news of the changes at Willkie came the same day that Allen & Overy (A&O) announced the election of real estate finance partner Kevin O’Shea as managing partner of the firm’s New York office, replacing Michael Feldberg.

Then, earlier this month (9 May), came the news that one of Manhattan’s best-known managing partners, Alfred Youngwood of Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison, would relinquish his post next January, after almost a decade, in favour of litigation department co-chair Brad Karp.

The timing of the changes is, of course, coincidental. But the wholesale leadership overhauls of the top ranks in the New York legal market provides as good an excuse as any to assess the current positioning and possible future of this trio.

Of the three, in New York at least, it is Paul Weiss that is the closest to being Manhattan royalty. Its average profit per equity partner (PEP) for 2007 of $2.6m (£1.3m), places it right in the top echelon of US firms, although Willkie was no slouch, with PEP hitting $2.23m (£1.11m).

Equally, Paul Weiss’s strategy has always been to focus on picking up top-quality instructions. According to Karp, the strategy is simply “excellence in every area, either geographic or work practice”.

Do not expect Karp to make any dramatic changes to that focus once he assumes leadership of Paul Weiss next year. As an executive board member, Karp has been part of the firm’s management team for the past five years and was therefore closely involved with the firm’s strategic direction.

But on the day his appointment was announced he gave The Lawyer at least an indication (in understated Paul Weiss style) that there was a possibility of change. “We’ll give it some thought,” said Karp.

The betting in New York is that, once installed as leader and a representative of the next generation of Paul Weiss lawyers, Karp will take the opportunity to make his mark.

Over at A&O, O’Shea is also likely to want to make his presence felt. In a meeting with The Lawyer earlier this month, O’Shea outlined his plans for taking A&O to the next level in New York.

“We’re in the process of determining what our strategic priorities for growth should be right now,” he reveals. “We’re still formulating that, but we’ve just had a good year, which means we’re a more attractive destination for laterals.”

Growth via laterals seems a dead cert, but O’Shea is also looking to take more advantage of the possibilities offered to him by his firm’s extensive network and the resources it holds.

For example, next month A&O is relocating executive director Jill Smith from London to New York, partly in a bid to give O’Shea himself more direct support.

“My personal goal is to continue the full-time practice of law,” says O’Shea. “To do that I’ll need the support people to step up.”

More widely, O’Shea has already gone on record as saying he is keen to see the firm achieve better integration and improved communication between its international offices.

“You can always do better,” he admits. “There are untapped resources going both ways. The basic premise is to get to know each other better. That’s critically important to cross-selling. We want to eliminate any ‘silos’.”

Sadly, it was not possible to pin down either of Willkie’s new duo for a comment on the firm’s future, Cerabino for one being otherwise engaged, assisting EDS on its $13.9bn (£7.15bn) acquisition by Hewlett-Packard.

What a shame if the elevation to the top job makes Cerabino and Gartner go all coy on us.

QUINN EMANUEL SCOOPS LA PARTNER FOR LONDON LAUNCH

After making its second significant hire for its London launch, Quinn Emanuel is poised to continue with its aggressive recruitment drive.

Last week (13 May) TheLawyer.com reported on the firm snaring US litigation star Marc Becker from Los Angeles (LA)-based rival Munger Tolles & Olson.

Becker will relocate to the new office in London, joining former Kirkland & Ellis partner Richard East as a partner.

When the office launch was announced last month, partner Bill Urquhart vowed to ramp up the office with UK-qualified lawyers. The aim is to have a 15-lawyer team in London, including three partners, within six months.

Becker, who will train to become UK-qualified, is well known to Quinn Emanuel after working opposite the firm in LA. Becker’s experience is in media litigation as well as copyright and trademark law.

“Building local law capabilities is still crucial,” says Urquhart. “Marc’s experience and knowledge of the firm makes him perfect for developing London. We know him very well and he’s the right person for the job.”

Originally an LA-based firm, Quinn Emanuel launched in New York six years ago with two partners. The firm immediately put into action the same local recruitment strategy that would propel it into the New York litigation market.

“It was very fast-paced growth at the start and we recruited directly from New York firms,” says New Yorkbased partner Peter Calamari. “We’ve now got 120 lawyers and we’re still growing.”

Recruitment for the firm is not going to be difficult due to its excellent reputation in the US market for prosecuting banks.

“Recruitment in New York has slowed down because we’ve reached a size that’s appropriate for us,” says Calamari. “But there’s always a lot of interest in what we do in the US and I’m sure there will be in the UK. The current market conditions have meant we’ve received a lot of interest.”

With Urquhart spending most of his time interviewing potential recruits in the capital in recent weeks, the firm’s growth in the UK could well be as successful as in New York.