The eagles have landed

Matheu Swallow looks back at the mixed fortunes of six US firms which now have a transatlantic presence

Gibson Dunn & Crutcher

London partner in charge: Anthony Bonnano

Number of partners (UK): 8

Total fee earners (UK): 14

Other European offices: Paris

Main practice areas: corporate finance, M&A, real estate, tax projects

Gibson Dunn & Crutcher has had a London presence for over 20 years, but until last summer the firm only practised US law. In August 1999 it signalled its intention to recruit partners specialising in M&A, corporate finance, project finance, tax and litigation from City firms to compete for UK work. Since then the firm has doubled its number of partners to eight.

The new policy reaped its first rewards in January this year when Alan Samson, a dual US/UK-qualified property finance partner, joined from Nabarro Nathanson. Then in April, the firm made its most high-profile coup to date when it picked up Nomura's former chief general counsel Stephen Ball to head the UK practice. Ball, who was also managing director and a member of Nomura's board of directors and executive committee, abruptly left the Japanese banking group in February. Corporate partner Paul Harter continues to run the US practice in London.

Ball, who has a reputation as a strong manager, plans to have at least eight UK-qualified partners in place by the end of the year and is apparently unconcerned that he joined with a non-existent client list. In May, Ball made his first successful hirings, taking highly-rated project finance partner Andrew Thomas from rival US firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and Stephenson Harwood's head of corporate finance Judith Shepherd. Shepherd, who specialises in Anglo-American corporate transactions, said at the time that she would be taking clients Société Generale and Standard Chartered Bank with her. Her arrival brought the number of UK-qualified lawyers in the London office to four.

Gibson Dunn & Crutcher is ranked number 10 in the US for profitability, with profits per partner in 1999 at $815,000 (£540,600). The firm's gross revenue in 1999 was $374m (248m).

Brobeck Hale and Dorr International

London managing partner: Tom Kellerman

Number of partners (UK): 8

Total fee earners (UK): 36

Other European offices: Oxford

Main practice areas: corporate, high-tech law, bio-technology, information technology, computer software, venture capital, employment

Brobeck Hale and Dorr International is an international joint venture between California's Brobeck Phleger & Harrison and Massachusetts firm Hale and Dorr. The bulk of the practice is based in London which concentrates on financing and related work for companies in the biotechnology and computer industries.

In April last year Thomas Kellerman joined as London managing partner, taking over from David Ayres who remains resident in London. Kellerman joined from the Palo Alto office of parent firm Brobeck Phleger & Harrison.

The biggest move of the last 12 months was in April this year when the firm took three top partners from Morgan Cole to set up an Oxford office, in the process becoming the first US firm to venture outside London. The move is intended to take advantage of emerging commercial technology companies coming out of the university. Three Morgan Cole corporate partners Joe Pillman, Jonathan Loake – recognised as leading South East corporate finance players – and Kate Eavis were poached to spearhead the launch. The firm is now considering moving into Cambridge and other university towns in Europe, although there are no immediate plans.

Parent firm Hale and Dorr is ranked 45 in the US for profitability, with profits per partner of $615,000 (£407,950) and a gross revenue of $181m (£120m), while Brobeck Phleger & Harrison is ranked 55 with profits per partner of $590,000 (£391,360) and a gross revenue of $250.5m (£166.2m).

White & Case

London executive partner: John Bellhouse

Administrative partner: Margaret Cole

Number of partners (UK): 21

Total fee earners (UK): 60

Other European offices: Bratislava, Brussels, Budapest, Frankfurt, Helsinki, Istanbul, Moscow, Prague, Paris, Stockholm

Main practice areas: full service concentrating on international, financial and corporate

White & Case began the last 12 months well, signing up top IP lawyer David Llewelyn and key members of his team in July last year to set up the firm's London IP practice. Llewelyn joined from Llewelyn Zeitman and is effectively head of IP for the whole of White & Case's European network, working with the telecoms, competition and international M&A practices.

The importance of the firm's European operation was emphasised in April this year when head of the Stockholm office Claes Zettermarck was named as the eighth member of the management board.

In August 1999 five lawyers followed Llewelyn to White & Case from his old firm. These included commercial litigation and arbitration partner Jon Lang, European patent agent and consultant John Runeckles and highly-rated IP consultant and former senior partner of Oxford solicitors Dallas Brett, Hugh Brett.

But in May the firm made its biggest splash, signing up the banking team, which walked out of the London office of US rival Weil Gotshal & Manges in January. The team, led by City maverick Maurice Allen, included Martin Hughes and Rachel Hatfield.

Leading Clifford Chance banking partner Colin Potter and his senior assistant Jake Jackaman are joining White &Case as partners.

Profits per partner in the US are $665,000 (£441,100m) giving White & Case a disappointing ranking of 36. Gross revenue in 1999 was $351.5m (£233.2m).

McDermott Will &Emery

London managing partner: William Charnley

Number of partners (UK): 11

Total fee earners (UK): 36

Other European offices: none

Main practice areas: corporate, litigation, banking, employment, IP/IT, tax

McDermott Will &Emery arrived in London in 1998 and March 1999 saw the beginning of aggressive UK expansion. In one week the firm secured the services of Baker & McKenzie's employment law guru Fraser Younson, Citibank's senior technology counsel for Europe Philip Rees and Herbert Smith commercial litigation practice partner John Reynolds.

In his own words Younson was “one of the top earners in London last year [1998]”, but he added that the pay at McDermotts was “substantially better” than at Baker &McKenzie. McDermotts was the first London-based office to be publicly offering potential seven figure salaries.

Younson's arrival was followed in May by another leading employment lawyer, Warner Cranston's head of employment David Dalgarno. The office also hired five assistants from Freshfields, Slaughter and May, Edge Ellison, Eversheds and Warner Cranston to create a significant employment law team. In July, three associates joined to bolster the litigation team and Stephanie Liston, Baker & McKenzie's highly-rated telecoms partner, joined, despite the fact that McDermott's is not rated for its telecoms practice.

October saw two more high-profile signatures join the practice – William Charnley, Simmons & Simmons' head of corporate finance jumped ship to become McDermott's London managing partner and head of tax Peter Nias came with him. In January this year the firm took on e-commerce and advertising senior associate Rafi Azim-Khan from Theodore Goddard to assist with a growing amount of private equity investments for US clients in Europe and the UK for e-commerce.

McDermott's then poached Theodore Goddard tax head Tim Sanders, a specialist in UK and international banking tax work, who was followed to the firm in April by Nabarro Nathanson partner Steven Hull. Hull was hired to build what is thought to be the first pensions practice at a US firm in London, to fit in with the firm's existing international employment practice and top US-based pensions practice.

Finally, the firm snapped up Hammond Suddard's head of IP Larry Cohen, whose multinational practice includes clients such as Harrods and engineering giant FKI.

Last year witnessed considerable expansion with the firm growing to 10 partners and a total of 30 fee earners. This year will be a test of integration and consolidation – do the pieces fit and can they bring in the work to pay for the investment?

McDermotts is ranked 24 in the US for profitability, with partner profits at $745,000 (£494,200). Gross revenue for 1999 was $389.5m (£258.4m).

WEIL Gotshal & manges

London managing partner: Mike Francies

Number of partners (UK): 16

Total fee earners (UK): 80

Other European offices: Prague, Warsaw, Brussels, Frankfurt, Budapest

Main practice areas: banking, corporate, capital markets and litigation

The last year for Weil Gotshal &Manges will undoubtedly be remembered for its recent high-profile departures led by Maurice Allen, to US rival White & Case.

Until that point the firm had been making steady progress. In May last year Wilde Sapte project finance partner Bruce Johnston was lured to head the project finance department at Weil Gotshal. Although Johnston's contract tied him to Wilde Sapte until December 2001 he was able to leave under the terms of the partnership agreement because the firm merged with Denton Hall, to become Denton Wilde Sapte.

In August Weil Gotshal beat Clifford Chance in the fight to advise MediaOne on its multibillion pound sale of One2One to Deutsche Telekom. The £8.4bn deal, which required an 11-strong Weil Gotshal team, is the first major transaction the firm handled in the UK since Mike Francies, head of corporate and joint head of the London office, left Clifford Chance in November 1998, taking MediaOne with him.

Weil Gotshal then swooped on Nabarro Nathanson, to take its first property partner Donna Stringer.

In November 1999 a team led by capital markets partner Michael Brady joined up with Freshfields to represent Telewest on its £428m acquisition of NTL's 50 per cent share in Cable London.

Then in January this year the firm poached a top European partner in a bid to found a German desk in its London office. Geza Toth, a cross-border M&A expert, was lured from the Hamburg practice of Feddersen Laule Scherzberg & Ohle Hansen Ewerwahn Finkelnburg & Clemm.

Also in January, Clifford Chance pensions partner Joanne Etherton joined the corporate department. But just a week later The Lawyer (31 January) revealed that Maurice Allen was quitting Weil Gotshal. Allen, joint head of the London office, quit at the end of January, telling the firm's management committee that he was leaving because of the firm's lack of autonomy from the US management and its stilted attempt at European expansion.

Three other partners left at the same time – Martin Hughes and Rachel Hatfield, who followed him to White & Case and Nick Holt, who joined KPMG's associated law firm KLegal as managing partner.

Mike Francies was then elected onto the firm's management committee, cementing his position as sole head of the firm's London office.

February saw Weil Gotshal raising its rates for newly-qualifieds from £45,000 to closer to £55,000 – unsurprising given the pay hikes recently announced by both UK and US firms.

In April a team led by Mike Francies, advised Hicks Muse Tate & Furst on the £1.26bn offer for United Biscuits – at the time believed to be the biggest public to private buyout ever.

However, Weil Gotshal's London office lost out in the panel review of Canada's largest bank Toronto-Dominion Bank, when the panel was cut from 20 firms to just two. The bank, which has an annual legal spend of more than £4m, revealed the results of the review in March.

Further departures followed in the next two months with Michelle Duncan quitting in April for the London office of US rival Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft to become its first litigation partner. In May, when Allen finally announced his destination, partner Mark Western announced that he too would be leaving to join White & Case.

The firm is ranked 16 in the US. In 1999 its profits per partner was $890,000 (£590,350) with gross revenue at $399.5m (£265m).

Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft

London managing partner: currently under discussion

Number of partners (UK): 8

Total fee earners (UK): 24

Other European offices: none

Main practice areas: capital markets, project finance, financial restructuring, corporate, tax and private client

In April 1999 Cadwalader Wickersham &Taft made UKlawyer Paul Griffin its first partner-in-charge of the London office. A little over a year later he left. Griffin joined Cadwalader after stints at Ashurst Morris Crisp and Denton Hall.

The firm opened its then all-UK lawyer London office in late 1997 with a splash, hiring four partners from Clifford Chance, Freshfields and Wilde Sapte. Capital markets partner Jim Croke arrived from the US in May 1999 with senior assistant Alan Lawrence to set up a real estate finance practice.

In July, the London office teamed up with Cadwalader in New York to act for Credit Suisse First Boston's distressed securities group in restructuring debt-ridden Alpha Shipping. The deal involved converting $175m (£116m) of high-yield debt into shares in a new company.

In December last year the firm lost senior associate Vincent Keaveny, who became a partner when he joined Norton Rose's capital markets group.

Cadwalader then swooped on the London office of rival US firm Weil Gotshal & Manges to poach Michelle Duncan, who became its first litigation partner. Duncan said that she left Weil Gotshal because she saw better opportunities for developing a finance litigation practice at Cadwalader.

However, the last two months have seen the departure of top capital markets partner John Walker to rival Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy only to be followed by the departure of two assistants and now Paul Griffin. Griffin will join Herbert Smith, leaving Cadwalader's project finance practice in disarray. However, CMS Cameron McKenna's highly-rated project finance partner and head of its African group Paul Biggs is expected to join the firm this summer. Biggs had masterminded Cameron's African expansion, including its link up with Cape Town firm Canca.

Cadwalader's profits per partner at are $820,000 (£543,900) giving the firm a US ranking of 19 in 1999 with a gross revenue of $175m (£116m).