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Garretts has been hit by the resignation of corporate and banking partner Brian Rutherford.
The acquisition finance specialist quit the firm on Thursday last week. His destination remains unclear, but sources say he is close to joining the London office of US firm Altheimer & Gray.
Rutherford set up the London office of Scottish firm Dundas & Wilson in 1994, before moving to Garretts in 1998 following his firm's merger with Arthur Andersen.
He leaves only three lawyers at Garretts from the original 12 who moved with him from Dundas & Wilson.
Rutherford's departure also leaves a gap in Garretts' banking practice, which is now without a partner who specialises in the booming management buyout market.
A spokesman for Garretts says: "He is an exceptional lawyer with some very good relationships and his main area is acquisition finance. He has a good reputation in that area, but it by no means leaves everybody bereft of that expertise."
Rutherford would be a coup for Chicago-based Altheimers, which has ambitions to build a 100-lawyer practice in London within three years. The firm's UK practice is property finance-based, but it is also known for leveraged buyout work in Europe and sources say Rutherford's private equity and financing work would fit nicely with this.
His practice is understood to be largely independent of Garretts' big five accountant patron Arthur Andersen. His clients include Royal Bank of Scotland, Swissair and Manpower.
Rutherford's move follows the arrival at Garretts of ex-Clifford Chance managing partner Tony Williams and senior partner and banking partner Douglas Colliver from US firm Dewey Ballantine. But it is understood their arrival came too late for Rutherford who had already decided to move.
The spokesman for Garretts says Rutherford will negotiate his leaving date with Williams and Garretts managing director Peter Wilby.
Rutherford declined to comment on his reasons for leaving or his future plans. Robert Bata, Altheimers' managing partner in London, was unavailable for comment as The Lawyer went to press.