Hugh Nineham's name has been synonymous with Lovells' corporate practice since, as its head, he was credited with masterminding its resurgence at the turn of the century.
Despite the practice facing leaner times in recent years, and regardless of the fact that Nineham has stepped out of the limelight since his failed senior partner election campaign in 2003, his imminent departure for McDermott Will & Emery will be a symbolic loss for the firm.
Managing partner David Harris, who stresses that the parting will be amicable, said the blow has been softened by the fact that the firm had been preparing for Nineham's likely retirement next year, with succession plans already underway.
Nineham's managerial role at the firm has been much reduced in recent years, with Andrew Skipper taking over as head of corporate in 2005. Although Nineham's current title is head of corporate finance, this is a low-level management role, with the bulk of his time devoted to fee-earning. But, given the amount of time he has been spending on client-facing activities, Nineham's departure will arguably be more keenly felt.
One former partner claimed: "He's one of the stalwarts of the firm. Without question he's the most senior, glittering and able corporate M&A partner the firm has. He's the only serious player there - the firm couldn't put forward a person with real gravitas whose name would mean anything."
Nineham was responsible for bringing a number of high-profile clients, such as ITV, Barclays, Segro and Alstom, into the firm and acts as relationship partner for them. As one former partner put it: "Hugh is the grey hair whose view clients pay for."
According to Harris, steps have been taken to mitigate the loss of that wisdom, with Nineham taking a back seat on deals and working alongside more junior partners to help build new relationships.
Longstanding relationships with key clients such as ITV are expected to survive the departure of Nineham, but competitors will look to muscle in on the firm's big ticket deals.
However, Skipper, head of the corporate scheme at Lovells, believes the practice remains robust.
"I think that losing someone of Hugh's stature inevitably has some influence," he said, "but I'm very confident about the practice at the moment.
"The deals we've worked on have been done by a great spread of corporate partners and Hugh's confident that he's left the practice strong."