Kirkland sparks city rumour mill

Want to know the biggest rumour in the City right now? It’s not the Linklaters senior partner election. Or BLP launching in Dubai – expensively.

No, last week The Lawyer was bombarded with calls from City partners telling us that Chicago powerhouse Kirkland & Ellis was about to make a major team hire. We’ll spare the headhunter’s blushes on the houses this team is allegedly acting for; there are things that don’t quite add up on that client list, so he might want to finesse that story. However, the rumoured package is up to $4m (£2.3m) for the lead partner alone – and Kirkland is now after a big-hitting banking partner to go with them.

As you can imagine, every single private equity partner in the City is denying it’s them, but every single banking partner in the City appears to have been approached by the same headhunter with exactly the same story. Kirkland is keeping resolutely silent, although sources close to the firm insist that if there is a deal happening, it ain’t imminent. “People are welcome to send in their CVs,” quips a Kirkland insider.

But given that the firm is in growth mode, we won’t rule out a team hire just yet – especially since Paris sources claim that Kirkland and Simpson Thacher are the two big names with headhunter mandates in France. Kirkland could certainly do with a French team – a Paris deal by signature client Bain Capital went to Thomas Forschbach at Latham last year. Latham acting for Bain? Now that must have concentrated minds in Chicago.

Kirkland’s biggest hurdle isn’t the sort of package it can offer. The real obstacle is the spectacular lack of mobility within the private equity and acquisition finance market in London. Savvy US firms might be targeting Allen & Overy for banking partners, but in reality the big beasts have always tended to stay put.

Any firm that can get into the top 10 most profitable firms in the US (an average profit per equity partner of £1.1m according to The Lawyer UK 100) when its headquarters are in Chicago not New York has got to be doing something right. Kirkland, along with Latham, is one of the few out-of-town firms to have built a credible New York operation, which bodes well for its expansion in Europe. We’re going to enjoy watching this story unfold.