Firm profile: Steptoe & Johnson

Washington DC firm Steptoe & Johnson has endured a turbulent time in the UK since merging with UK technology and telecoms boutique Rakisons in January 2001.

Managing partner for London: Maury Shenk

Turnover: $11m (£6m)

Total number of partners: 13

Total number of fee-earners: 29

Main practice areas: Corporate, dispute resolution, insurance, international trade and technology

Key clients: Illinois Tool Works, Motorola, Swiss Re

Number of offices: One in the UK and six worldwide

Locations: Brussels, London, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, Washington DC

Washington DC firm Steptoe & Johnson has endured a turbulent time in the UK since merging with UK technology and telecoms boutique Rakisons in January 2001.

Steptoe has more partners now than the 12 it inherited from Rakisons, but only two remain from its pre-merger days.

“We’re not about the difficulties that came with that merger anymore,” says London managing partner Maury Shenk.

The dotcom fallout meant that 2001 was probably the worst year that Steptoe could have picked for a merger with a technology boutique. And besides, stateside Steptoe is about a whole lot more than technology.

The UK office now more accurately reflects the practice of the firm in the US. The firm’s insurance practice in the US numbers around 50 lawyers and brings in revenues of around $30m (£16.5m). Insurance clients include Swiss Re, Excel, Marsh and US-based Hartford Insurance.

Former Clifford Chance senior associate Angus Rodger became the first dedicated insurance lawyer in Steptoe’s London office in January 2004. Partner Neil Ellis joined the insurance team from DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary in February 2005, and Shenk has been delighted with its progress.

While until recently insurance was the most buoyant practice area, Shenk’s own practice area, technology, is also making a comeback. Shenk is the firm’s only US lawyer in London and he continues to advise clients such as Motorola, but has recently seen a rise in M&A work and also in technology export control work, which encompasses advising companies on their compliance with international trade treaties. This is especially relevant when exporting technology that can be used for civil and military matters.

The aim of the UK office is to provide UK legal advice, hence Shenk being the only US lawyer. “It’s an English practice. If we have things that need US lawyers then we send them to the US,” says Shenk.

Advising on international trade disputes is another practice area in which the firm considers itself a market leader in the US – and it is an area that the firm is keen to grow in London. International arbitration specialist Ray Werbicki joined from Masons to bolster this area in November 2004. Steptoe did have offices in Moscow and Almaty in Kazakhstan to handle investment disputes, but they were cut loose due to a lack of profitability.

In addition to London, Steptoe also retains an office in Brussels, and while its international expansion has not come without difficulties, Steptoe is generally happy with where it is right now.

“We have aspirations to grow, but we don’t want to take over the world,” says Shenk.
Maury Shenk
Managing partner
Steptoe & Johnson