Linklaters managing partner Tony Angel is to step down later this year, prompting a succession race at the magic circle firm.
Linklaters staff were informed today of Angel's decision, which leaves the question of handover wide open, although the favourites are capital markets head Nick Eastwell and banking head John Tucker.
The firm's international board will now enter a period of intense consultation with partners and directors in order to nominate a single successor, which will be ratified by a partnership vote.
Angel told The Lawyer that he was proud of the way that Linklaters had changed during his tenure. He said: "The firm has transitioned into being a truly global law firm aligned round a common ambition."
However, he also acknowledged some of the difficulties involved. "There's been a number of times where you've had to make difficult calls," he admitted. "Most partnerships are consensus-driven organisations, so you have to push at the envelope a bit."
Angel cited the lockstep system as a key factor in binding the Linklaters partnership. He said: "We've moved as an organisation to one where there's a drive to be the best, but the trick has been to manage that in a way that retains collegiality within the firm.
"There have been periods in getting there that we've gone through ups and downs, but what's encouraging within a lockstep culture is the benefits that lockstep produces - a common purpose and working for each other. "
Angel's term comes to an end on 30 June this year. He has been widely understood to be interested in a job in the public sector, but he said that he had no definite options lined up.
"I've long thought it would be great to have three careers," he said. "I had a great time as a tax lawyer, and I've had a really great time as managing partner. It's genuinely been a privilege and it would be great to do something else."
Angel has been managing partner at Linklaters since 1998 and has seen the firm through a restructuring of its partnership which included the integration of its European mergers, an overhaul of its US operation and a massive push into Asia.
Last year Linklaters posted record results with revenues of £935m, while average profit per equity partner broke the £1m barrier for the first time. Top equity partners at Linklaters earned £1.32m.
Last year the firm elected David Cheyne as senior partner following a contested vote.
In a firmwide memo today, Cheyne said: "I would very much like to say how lucky the firm has been to have had Tony serve two terms as firmwide managing partner. He has done a remarkable job of handling the change from being an English law firm with international offices to being the leading global law firm."