Herbies gears up for three-way senior partner battle
23 November 2009 | By Luke McLeod-Roberts
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When they turn up to vote next month for who they want to lead their firm for the next five years, Herbert Smith partners will be faced with an unprecedented choice of practice representation. Will they want a partner hailing from competition (Jonathan Scott), corporate (Allen Hanen) or litigation (Tim Parkes)?
There is a fair bit of speculation that, after five years of being run by a litigator, David Gold, partners will return to the status quo and elect someone from the firm’s largest practice area, corporate, as was the case with previous senior partner Richard Bond.
“Scott comes from a small practice group, but he’s worked with the corporate guys and so may get their nod,” a source close to the firm says.
Others argue that, far from being drawn in terms of practice distinctions, the real battle lines are being drawn on the basis of who will help raise the profile of the firm externally.
One partner says Scott will get his vote because he is “very good with people, quite a human candidate”.
Another source points out the competition partner’s credentials. “He’d certainly be the most popular candidate in London,” the source says. “He’d fill the role of the traditional senior partner very well. He’s a very avuncular individual. He’s a lot of fun; a bit self-deprecating; the classic City man - very pukka. He has the highest profile of the three externally and so would probably find it easier mixing with the other senior partners.”
The latter point is crucial. Now that the firm has a managing partner in the form of David Willis, the all-in-one role that Gold embodied when he first took up the reins is seen as less important. Instead, whoever fills the new post will be able to revert to the more traditional senior partner function of being an ambassador.
Hustings between the candidates start today (23 November), so manifestos were yet to be circulated when The Lawyer went to press. However, around 70 per cent of firm revenue is still generated in the UK (a massive proportion for a top 10 firm) and partners are believed to be looking for someone who can increase this proportion in line with those of firms of similar size and profitability.
Gold has made some progress on this. He may not have managed to merge with the firm’s European alliance partners Gleiss Lutz and Stibbe, or persuade Spanish firm Cuatrecasas Gonçalves Pereira to join the alliance, but under his leadership Herbert Smith opened in Madrid with some former Linklaters partners and unveiled a string of offices in the Middle East.
aining a three-office foothold in Saudi Arabia with well-respected outfit Al Ghazzawi Professional Association was a good achievement given the difficulties some international firms have had in the country.
However, although it has an associate office in the US through alliance firm Stibbe, Herbert Smith lacks its own presence on the other side of the Pond.
All three hopefuls have substantial management experience - Parkes is a former executive partner and Asia head, Scott used to run the competition practice and Hanen is CIS head - but Scott could lose out to the other two because of his limited international experience.
Also, as a US-qualified lawyer, Hanen could possess the best networks to move forward any US developments if that should become a strategic priority. Hanen is also seen as having the support of the executive. Still, for the UK partners, who last year accounted for 167 of the 238-strong partnership, he is a relative unknown.
But those looking for a repeat of the hotly contested 2005 senior partner race between Gold and Richard Fleck could be disappointed.
All three of these candidates are strong in their own right, but none are seen as trailblazers and there has so far been no talk of canteen showdowns spurred by differing affiliations.
Perhaps the creation of the managing partner role has made the senior partner position less of a bounty than it was last time around. And all three know that the fact that Gold is standing down will clear the way for Willis to take a more central role. Willis’s vote, then, may be the deciding factor.