The Leader Column

When Eversheds‘ equity partners went home on Friday night, they will have found an interesting item of post waiting for them: envelopes containing details of nominations for the two men who want to lead their 4,000-strong firm through the next crucial stage in its development.

The process has already been pretty eventful. What looked at first to be a three-way contest between three key regional centres became a head-to-head fight when Birmingham senior partner Adrian Bland fell on his sword, announcing that he would pull out of the race in favour of nominating London managing partner Michael Brown. The decision by Bland, a key moderniser within the firm, seriously broadened Brown’s support base and dealt a major blow to the David Gray camp.

Gray started his campaign early and strong and until now had appeared to maintain that position. But it is Brown that has emerged as the only candidate to be nominated by a regional managing partner – Birmingham’s management star Meg Heppel. Brown is also the only candidate to have nominations from the firm’s practice group heads, including such heavyweights as Viv Du-Feu and Martin Issitt. The only two practice group heads not to appear on his nomination list are known to be among Brown’s supporters.

Gray’s position is beginning to look increasingly isolated outside of his main stronghold in Leeds and Manchester, where he is managing partner, and those corporate partners, particularly in the East of England, who have responded to his corporate message. His rallying call for a corporate firm led by a corporate partner can only have limited appeal across the partnership and is certain to be leaving many of the firm’s equity partners feeling alienated.

The risk for Gray is that equity partners in Birmingham, Cardiff, the Midlands and the East of England will support the platform that has the backing of their practice group heads. What’s more, it would be quite wrong to assume that incumbent managing partner David Ansbro – who has so far declined to make his position public within Eversheds – is backing Gray, who stepped into his Leeds and Manchester shoes. Quite the opposite could prove to be true. All of which begs the question: is Gray heading for a fall and should he be looking to do a deal with Brown if he wants to secure himself a key management role?