City Young Guns: The youth will out

While lead partners take the credit on large M&A deals, it’s the senior associates who run most of them. The Lawyer spoke to 10 such rising stars to get their views on life as a corporate lawyer

The M&A market appears unstoppable. Yet while the well-known names of corporate law hog the headlines, it is the younger advisers that put in the lion’s share of the hours required to support transformational deals such as private equity house Kohlberg Kravis Roberts’ (KKR) £11.1bn acquisition of Alliance Boots.

The Lawyer has scoured the City for the very best of the new generation of corporate stars and will be tracking their careers.

In a series of video interviews, produced in association with Cantos and available on www.thelawyer.com/city_young_guns.html, we ask 10 of the very best ‘City young guns’, aged under 35, to shed some light on the issues impacting on the careers of the next generation of corporate stars.

Partnership aspirations

Of The Lawyer’s 10 City young guns, three were made up to their firms’ partnerships during the May promotion round. But with all the hype about alternative career paths, is partnership really still the most coveted legal title for corporate lawyers?A quick straw poll of the group is met with a resounding ‘yes’. All admit, whether overtly or through more subtle mutterings, that partnership has always been, and remains, their key career goal.

“Being honest, I still aspire to being a partner in a law firm,” says Samantha McGonigle, an associate at Weil Gotshal & Manges. “That’s still the pinnacle of success in private practice.”

But Clifford Chance senior associate Robert Crothers argues that this does not mean firms should give up developing alternative career paths.

“The people issue is one of the biggest challenges for law firms at the moment – both firms and the individuals are struggling with it, as not everyone wants partnership and all that it entails. Trying to retain people that don’t want partnership is the biggest issue.”

Ashurst partner Gavin Gordon, another of the trio made up in May, bangs the drum for Ashurst’s approach to the issue, which has been to revamp its associate career path with defined job roles and offer the position of counsel as an alternative to partnership.

“The profession as a whole needs to offer an alternative [to partnership],” he says. “There’s clearly a move towards addressing those issues, but the real difficulty in law is the progression from trainee to seven or nine years’ PQE to potentially qualifying as a partner.”

Career development

Another straw poll reveals that the majority of our City young guns’ firms offer associates mentors to assist their career development. For example, Clifford Chance provides business skills training and career development partners, regardless of associates’ career aims.

This is an initiative supported by the firm’s global head of corporate Peter Charlton, who is clear that all levels of lawyers must be commercially savvy.

Charlton says: “Clients are telling us more and more that it’s not just about delivering legal solutions, it’s delivering business advice alongside this.”

But McGonigle, who joined Weil from Lovells last year with her trainee mentor, partner Jonathan Wood, argues that the US approach is better placed to develop buy-in by associates – and therefore retain them – because of the greater level of actual client responsibility given to younger members of the team.

“The real difference [between UK and US firms] is the culture,” she says. “We do the same type of work with the same clients, but the culture is more relaxed and associates are treated like adults. You’re given more responsibility and also more information on the business.”

Although this is not supported by exclusive research by The Lawyer, which recently revealed that only 7 per cent of associates found US firms to be the most attractive employers.

Long hours culture

All this, however, adds up to confirmation of the endemic long hours culturally expected of transactional lawyers. All of our young guns admit to working long, unsociable hours at times, and sometimes struggling with work-life balance.

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer partner Edward Cole, the last of the trio made up in May, says: “The hours can be long and the work can be tough on occasion. But you have to remember, balanced out against that is that the work can be exciting.”

Crothers says: “Clients can be very apologetic and grateful for the long hours worked and that does make a difference. But ultimately they have their own legitimate business demands that they must meet… It’s the pressure of global business.”

But are our young guns getting it wrong? As the head of the world’s largest law firm’s corporate group, Charlton is well placed to know. “You need to maintain a balance in life. You have to work quite hard at that when you’re a corporate M&A lawyer because the demands of the clients are very, very high. But you can make time, if you work at it.”

City Young Guns

Ross Allardice, Kirkland & Ellis
**He is currently renovating a property in Edinburgh**

Scottish-admitted associate Ross Allardice opted to join the London office of Kirkland & Ellis in 2004 in order to access the more challenging workload and direct client and partner contact offered by a US firm.

Like his Scottish colleagues at Kirkland, well-known partners Graham White and Raymond McKeeve, who joined from Linklaters last year, Allardice started his career as a trainee in the Edinburgh office of Dickson Minto before moving to London after one year.

Since joining Kirkland, the 31-year-old University of Dundee and Christ’s College, Cambridge graduate has helped advise several of the firm’s top private equity clients, including Providence Equity Partners on its joint acquisition with Doughty Hanson of Caudwell Communications for £1.46bn last year.

Other recent mandates include advising CCMP Capital on its £505m acquisition of vacuum equipment manufacturer BOC Edwards.

Edward Cole, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
**Cole tries to visit his family in Australia at least twice a year**

New partner Edward Cole, who was made up in May, is tasked with the crucial role of helping develop Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s corporate and cross-border M&A practice in Asia. He will shortly be flying out to Tokyo.

The move is a return to his roots for the 32-year-old, who, although originally from Sydney, is a fluent Japanese speaker, having studied at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo.

He joined Freshfields in 2001 in Japan, having cut his legal teeth as an associate with the chief of justice of New South Wales.

“I’m looking forward to using my Japanese language skills more again,” Cole says. But his experience is far more diverse than his language talents may suggest, as he has advised on a diverse array of deals, such as Virgin Mobile’s flotation in 2004 and various fundraisings for Swiss mining group Xstrata.

Rebecca Cousin, Slaughter and May
**Enjoys going for walks on Hampstead Heath to relax**

Slaughter and May associate Rebecca Cousin was always destined to become a lawyer, having from an early age shown a pleasure in scrutinising the smallprinted competition entry criteria on the back of cereal packets.

Since joining Slaughters in 2003, having trained at Pinsents (now Pinsent Masons) in Birmingham, she has carved out an astounding deals list, including advising Alliance Boots on its £10.6bn recommended cash offer by AB Acquisitions, controlled by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR) and Stefano Pessina.

Other key instructions for the 31-year-old have been assisting investment company Crownstone European Properties on its EURO450m (£303.71m) share offering and proposed listing on Euronext earlier this year, and the Hilton Group on the £3.3bn sale of its hotel and leisure division, Hilton International, to Hilton Hotels Corporation in 2006.

Robert Crothers, Clifford Chance
**Has a passion for travel to remote destinations. Has visited Yemen, Iran and Libya**

Seven year-PQE associate Robert Crothers’ dedication to Clifford Chance is indisputable, having begun his career with the firm as a trainee. He has since grown to become a highly regarded member of the corporate finance team and has worked on top mandates, including advising KKR on its £10.6bn recommended cash offer for Alliance Boots opposite fellow young gun Rebecca Cousin at Slaughters.

Other career highlights include advising key client Kraft Foods on the acquisition of the Spanish and Portuguese operations of United Biscuits and the return to Kraft of licensed trademarks, including Oreo and Ritz, across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Describing the legal profession as a “people business”, the 31-year-old is clear that he was sold on Clifford Chance because of the team. This has since been bolstered by the firm’s dedicated training and mentoring programme for career progression.

Gavin Gordon, Ashurst
**His favourite bands include Kaiser Chiefs and Arctic Monkeys**

Ashurst rising star Gavin Gordon was rewarded in May for his efforts advising a stellar client list, including private equity groups Blackstone and Candover, by being made up to the partnership at just 32-years-old.

Gordon, a graduate of Trinity College, Cambridge is integral to the firm’s relationship with Blackstone. Notably, he assisted the private equity group on its £1.03bn acquisition, through its company Merlin Entertainment, of a majority stake in Tussauds Group in February. Other key instructions have included advising Candover on its £2.18bn acquisition, through bingo and casino operator Gala, of bookmaking chain Coral Eurobet in 2005.

When he is not advising on leveraged buyouts, M&A and cross-border transactions, season ticket-holder Gordon can be found cheering on his beloved Tottenham Hotspur.

Samantha McGonigle, Weil Gotshal & Manges
**Is a skiing fanatic. Favours Val d’ Isère for the slopes and après ski**

Samantha McGonigle has proven to be a valuable asset to Weil Gotshal & Manges since joining from Lovells as an associate in early 2006 as part of partner Marco Compagnoni’s team.

“My second seat as a trainee was with Marco and Jonathan Wood [her supervising partner at Lovells] and that really sold private equity to me,” she says. As such, the 29-year-old associate, who is described by her peers as “super sharp and a real dynamo”, focuses on advising an impressive array of private equity houses, particularly HgCapital and Advent International.

Recent key instructions for the Oxford University graduate include advising Advent on the disposal of Fat Face in a hotly contested auction that was ultimately won by Bridgepoint.

Ben Mercer, Stephenson Harwood
**Enjoys reading maritime novels, in the vein of Patrick OBrien**

Senior associate Ben Mercer is carving out a solid name for himself for top-level mid-market corporate advice at Stephenson Harwood, as the firm itself continues to build a solid reputation for AIM work off the back of its booming Asia practice.

Mercer, who recently turned 30, oversaw the corporate aspects of St Martins Property’s $750m (£377.5m) sale of the Cevahir Mall in Istanbul – Europe’s largest shopping mall – in March. He is also key to the firm’s relationship with emerging markets fund manager Charlemagne Capital. He managed the advice to Charlemagne on its £300m IPO on AIM in April 2006.

Mercer, an avid golfer who is five years’ PQE, looks headed towards partnership.

“I’m lucky enough to already run deals myself, obviously with a partner overseeing for regulatory reasons,” he says. “But partnership would take my career to the next level. I suspect it’s still the aim of the majority.”

Dominic Morris, Allen & Overy
**Most of his spare time is spent with his nin-month-old daughter**

Senior associate Dominic Morris has had an astounding few years since joining Allen & Overy in 2004. The 33-year-old has drawn on his experience at magic circle rival Clifford Chance and subsequent stint at investment bank NM Rothschild to advise on several of the firm’s leading corporate instructions.

Morris developed particular expertise in energy and utilities transactions during his time within NM Rothschild’s natural resources team, and as a result has assisted on deals such as the Macquarie Consortium’s £8bn acquisition of Thames Water Holdings.

Other key deal highlights include acting on Severstal’s proposed E40bn (£27bn) merger with Arcelor last year and Shell’s E4.4bn (£2.97bn) disposal of Basell NV to Access Industries.

Maegen Morrison, Lovells
**Her favourite book is The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester**

Maegen Morrison proved her credentials as a star corporate lawyer in May when she was made up during Lovells’ record partnership promotions round.

The 32-year-old is particularly well regarded for her specialisation in financial institutions and the consumer and leisure sector, having notably advised Russian grocery discount retailer Pyaterochka Holding NV on its $1.37bn (£689.52m) acquisition of Perekriostok Holdings, the largest supermarket chain in Russia, in April 2006.

Other notable mandates include advising Lloyds TSB on its £975m sale of the Goldfish credit card business to Morgan Stanley in 2005.

It is a long way from her beginnings at Australian firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth, having obtained an LLB in Australia in 1999. After three years Morrison joined the flow of Antipodean talent moving to London and joinedLovells’ corporate team before qualifying in England two years later.

Aisling Zarraga, Linklaters
**Her favourite book is The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester**

Linklaters managing associate Aisling Zarraga (née Walsh) has proven to be indispensable to the magic circle giant, stepping up to the breach left when the corporate group lost partners Raymond McKeeve and Graham White to Kirkland & Ellis last year. She has since taken over advising key clients including Tate & Lyle, Somerfield and HBOS.

In fact, Zarraga advised Apax Partners, Barclays Capital and R20, the investment vehicle owned by property investor Robert Tchenguiz, on their £1.8bn takeover of Somerfield and subsequent disposal of Kwik Save.

A graduate of Trinity College Dublin, she specialises in public and private M&A and private equity transactions, having refined her commercial skills during a secondment to GlaxoSmithKline in 2001 and stints as a trainee in both Singapore and Budapest.

The Lawyer TV

To see and hear more from The Lawyer‘s top 10 corporate lawyers, watch the City Young Guns video series, produced in association with Cantos, on www.thelawyer.com.

Our interview with Peter Charlton, global head of corporate at Clifford Chance, and six of the young guns is already available on the website, with the other four to be posted over the next two weeks.

To watch the videos, visit www.thelawyer.com/city_young_guns.html.