CMS Cameron McKenna partner Martin Stewart-Smith is beginning to flag, having spent most of the previous day on a transatlantic conference call with, he says, a cast of thousands.
“Most of the time, those call are spent working out who is speaking,” Stewart-Smith jokes.
Although he is obviously tired from the late-night phone call, Stewart-Smith admits that it is also difficult to keep up momentum knowing that he will be working in a different firm in a few months time.
In keeping with the zeitgeist among partners in second-tier firms, he is moving from the energy and construction department at CMS Cameron McKenna to US firm Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe.
This will be his fourth move in as many years and the third one influenced by one man – Ian Johnson, managing partner of Orricks’ London office.
The two met in 1995 at the time when Stewart-Smith was returning to Clifford Chance, where he was an assistant following a two-year secondment at the World Bank in Washington.
Johnson was, at the time, head of the projects group at Ashurst Morris Crisp and soon convinced Stewart-Smith to join him there.
“Ian is a very good team builder,” says Stewart-Smith. “He has lots of gravitas and experience. At the time, he had brought in clients to Ashurst Morris Crisp who traditionally used Magic Circle firms, which was very impressive.”
Two years later, both men moved to US firm Chadbourne & Parke‘s London office. Neither stayed very long and Stewart-Smith chooses his words carefully when describing this part of his career.
Pausing slightly, he says: “It is really important to know with an American firm, just as much as an English firm, what it is like and whether it has thought through its strategy for a London office.”
Others are less diplomatic about Chadbourne & Parke’s first few months in London, with one source describing the office as a “textbook example of how not to run a practice”.
Stewart-Smith does not disagree with this statement but one bad experience has not put him off working for a US firm again.
“Orricks is very focused on building up offices in key financial areas rather than having offices everywhere. It is also very well managed,” he says. “Cameron McKenna is a good firm but I think I am moving from a good firm to a truly outstanding one.
“I think a critical mass is very important, especially with the sort of work I do which is highly complex and done on a tight timetable. You need to be able to demonstrate to clients that you have the depth of resources rather than one partner sitting in London, which is what Chadbourne & Parke had.”
While Johnson went directly to Orricks, Stewart-Smith transferred to Cameron McKenna. There he rejoined his former Clifford Chance colleague, Paul Stock, who has become his professional “other half” and will be moving with him to Orricks.
“Paul and I have complementary skills,” he says. “I think that I am stronger on the structure of a deal, while Paul is a very good executor.”
Working for Chadbourne & Parke threw up an interesting split loyalty for Stewart-Smith. The two main strengths of the firm were its projects work and tobacco litigation cases.
Stewart-Smith’s father used to be a tobacco farmer in Zimbabwe, growing the more pungent Turkish tobacco.
When Stewart-Smith’s elder brother was called up to join the Rhodesian army during the troubles in the mid-1970s, his father decided that having one son in the war was enough and sent Stewart-Smith to boarding school in his home country, Scotland. He stayed in Scotland throughout university and qualified first as a Scottish solicitor before heading to London where he joined Clifford Chance.
It is unlikely that Stewart-Smith has much time to visit the country where he grew up, as he estimates that he spends about half his year travelling, mostly to the US where he has carried out several privatisation deals for energy companies.
And with his new job, Stewart-Smith is hoping to spend even more time over the pond. He is discussing taking a couple of months at Orricks’ head office in San Francisco, the city where Cameron McKenna has just shut its office, a move which Stewart-Smith admits he was unhappy with.
“My son is very excited about the prospect of living in California,” he smiles. “In my business it doesn’t matter where I live, I need to follow where the clients are doing their business. All that matters is keeping the family happy, because at the end of the day if things aren’t happy at home then everything else suffers.”