Dewey shows joined-up thinking as calls for a City chief are answered
22 March 2010 | By Matt Byrne
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London gears up for next level after two years of integration.
It was the news for which many - if not most - of Dewey & LeBoeuf’s City-based partners had been waiting.
Last week the firm confirmed that it had appointed its first resident London managing partner since the October 2007 merger of Dewey Ballantine and LeBoeuf Lamb Greene & MacRae.
Up until now the firm’s jet-setting chairman Steve Davis had - at least nominally - also enjoyed the title of London managing partner.
But with the post-merger integration of two major US firms during the deepest downturn in recent memory topping his agenda, Davis’s dual roles left him looking dangerously overstretched.
Worse, it left Dewey’s second-largest office looking like a ship without a full-time captain.
“The London office desperately needed direction and leadership,” says one source close to the firm. “Ever since the merger every partner in London has been saying, ’we don’t care who it is, we just need a managing partner in London’. And the New York management resolutely said, ’no, we don’t need it’.”
Part of Dewey’s reasoning for not having a managing partner in London is understood to be that New York did not have one. In which case, why did London need one?
But the counter-argument was equally plausible. It needed one precisely because London is not New York, aka Dewey’s headquarters. Then there was the political dimension.
“Most people thought the reason London didn’t have a managing partner was that it was an excuse not to have to deal with the political machinations, ie Peter versus Fred,” says a source.
For ’Fred’ read Fred Gander, the former head of legacy Dewey Ballantine’s London office; and for ’Peter’ read Peter Sharp, his oppo at legacy LeBoeuf. Both are understood to have originally wanted the London head position and, at the time, neither got it.
Then last week Sharp, the first solicitor to join LeBoeuf back in 1995, became the first managing partner of Dewey’s City office sice 2007.
“Fred Gander is extremely well regarded and continues to be,” says Sharp of the man he calls his “close friend”, adding that Gander remains “very active” in European matters.
Did Gander actually say, “I don’t want to be London managing partner”? The Lawyer asks Sharp.
“Yes,” he confirms.
With this rumoured long-running political sore apparently now put to bed (Gander’s management responsibility includes his role as chairman of Dewey’s European supervisory committee) Sharp’s - and inevitably Davis’s - attention can focus fully on exactly what they want the firm’s London office to be, strategically speaking.
As one insider puts it: “The rhetoric has always been, ’we view London as our second most important office’. But since the merger it’s all been New York, New York, New York.”
The exception to that rule in terms of lateral hiring investment was Silicon Valley, where last July Dewey brought in what turned out to be an immediately successful five-partner corporate team from Cooley Godward Kronish headed by Rick Climan. Within weeks Climan and co had secured a major deal for Dewey, advising eBay on the $1.9bn (£1.25bn) sale of its 65 per cent interest in Skype.
In London, however, Dewey had not made a single lateral partner hire since the 2007 merger - until this month. That was when it brought in employment partner Sarah Linton as a rapid-fire hire (the deal took 10 days from start to finish) to plug the gap left by Matthew Howse, who joined Morgan Lewis.
Davis, in London last week for one of his regular visits, claims there is no reason for Dewey’s City partners to feel unloved.
“We’ve been integrating and getting to know each other since the merger,” says Davis. “But we’ve only made 18 laterals in total since the merger, including Sarah. The Silicon Valley hire was probably the single largest group. Is London feeling unloved? It oughtn’t.
We’ve looked at various additions and I certainly feel we’ll be making more hires.”
Sharp will be at the front end of this, as will the London policy committee set up last year to advise on strategy. Under the spotlight will be the firm’s stated commitment to providing a full service.
Certainly real estate needs attention. Since former Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer partner Graham Prentice retired at the end of last year, the firm has been left without a single property partner in London. Ditto pensions, an area Dewey is currently forced to outsource.
“The preponderance of the partners here and in the firm would say London should be full-service,” says Davis. “And it’s more of a full-service office than any of our other offices outside of New York. It’s true that we don’t have a real estate partner in London, but we still have a practice. Part of the function of the policy committee has been to examine this precise issue.”
Another of Dewey’s recent top-level changes saw the former global head of real estate in New York Peter Britell become of counsel and be replaced in the role by Stuart Saft. Saft is understood to be keen to explore opportunities relating to developing Dewey’s London property practice.
Meanwhile, Dewey also created two new senior management roles in the US last week, appointing litigation partner Ralph Ferrara and M&A legend Mort Pierce as vice-chairs.
Both roles are seen by both Davis and Sharp as going right to the heart of what they see as being the most critical imperative currently - business development.
“The world is more competitive than ever and getting out and meeting the client is vital,” asserts Davis. “Mort and Ralph’s new roles recognise their contributions to the firm, but there’s also an ambassadorial role.”
In other words, Pierce and Ferrara will focus on high-level client development. Although Davis adds that revenue at the firm over the past few months has improved significantly off a reduced headcount, suggesting Dewey is now tighter, leaner and more efficient, wheeling in a firmwide vice-chair such as Pierce or Ferrara to client pitches cannot hurt.