When Maurice Allen walked out of Weil Gotshal & Manges eight months ago, it was billed as the end of the finance practice. The City assumed that Weil Gotshal would be refocusing on corporate – after all, they said, it fits better with the practice in New York.
About the same time, the rumours started flying about concerning the impending departure of head of securitisation Jacky Kelly. The ex-Clifford Chance star was bound to leave the sinking ship, competitors crowed.
But it was wishful thinking. Kelly has insisted throughout that she is not going anywhere, and she is instead wooing clients as if there were no tomorrow. The past month alone has seen a flood of huge deals – working with Goldman Sachs on the largest ever Euro-denominated collateralised debt offering for Concerto, and advising Merrill Lynch on the UK’s largest ever multi-loan commercial mortgage securitisation, to name but two.
Kelly was knocked last year for having a practice too dependent on one client – she took Greenwich NatWest with her when she moved from Clifford Chance. When it was swallowed up by Royal Bank of Scotland, another Clifford Chance client, her work could have been chewed up as well. Instead she has used the opportunity to snap up work from the new homes of
ex-Greenwich bankers. Between Kelly and her capital markets partner Erica Handling, a nice little finance practice is being built.
It is a model piloted by Sidley & Austin. When Graham Penn set up its English law practice six years ago the aim was to attack the securitisation market. It now has 30 securitisation lawyers, making it one of the biggest in the City.
Securitisation is a practice where it is easy to win affections. Acting for lead managers rather than the corporates, there is no need for enormous teams; and with so much work around stretching the magic circle, investment banks are looking to diversify their lists of advisers. The deals are nearly always complex, so once you have got a foot in the door at the likes of Morgan Stanley, you can be sure people will get to hear about your work.
This is how Kelly hopes it will pan out anyway. She’s sidled her way into the affections of four of the big players in the past eight months – Merrill Lynch, Barclays Capital, UBS Warburg and Chase Manhattan. Merrill was won over when ex-Greenwich banker Richard Downer resurfaced there, as was UBS Warburg, which took on five people at director level after the merger, including Bruce Snider and Steve Skerrett. Both gave Kelly a chance to prove herself, and have since come back for more.
Kelly then eased her way into Barclays Capital after working for the firm in the role of designated underwriter’s counsel about a year ago. The firm liked what it saw, and after a visit she eventually got the chance to pitch for a place on the panel. She won that in the summer of this year.
All was not lost with Chase Manhattan when Maurice Allen left either. Despite its love for him, the bank didn’t turn its back on Weil Gotshal in the same way that Allen did. Susan Voorhees gave Kelly her chance to woo the bank, and now she is in the midst of two significant deals for her new client.
Erica Handling has done her fair share of rainmaking on the capital markets side as well. It was she who attracted the attentions of Goldman Sachs because of her earlier work on collateralised debt obligations.
But resources will soon be an issue if the likes of Merrill Lynch are going to keep sending work its way, and Weil Gotshal only has a team of 11 in securitisation. Whether it will be able to poach people from the magic circle to keep the numbers up in the way that Maurice Allen did remains to be seen. The work and the money are both good in the magic circle, which wasn’t the case when Kelly jumped ship a few years ago. Kelly will have to hope she can now start winning over new recruits in the same way she clearly charms new clients.
CLAIRE SMITH, SENIOR REPORTER