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PAUL Rhodes, managing partner of Dibb Lupton Broomhead and one of the profession's most talked-about lawyers, surprised partners last week by deciding to step down on 31 December.
He is due to retire from the firm in 16 months.
Often caricatured in the press as the pugilistic handler of a pack of rottweilers, the Cambridge-educated lawyer is a creator of one of the UK's most successful firms.
Robin Smith, Dibbs' senior partner and co-founder, said: "He has contributed very substantially, most recently by developing a high-quality London office, while his influence on financial and business disciplines is enormous."
Rhodes, 53, said: "It's always been my goal to go at 55, and so it's good to be fortunate enough to do that."
He will now draft an international strategy, and develop the firm's IT strategy.
Dibbs' management board has elected Nigel Knowles, deputy managing partner, to replace Rhodes.
Dibbs' corporate culture is in part due to Rhodes' 10-year industrial career in New York, where he rose to vice-president of medical corporation Becton Dickinson, before entering law at 36.
Booth & Co joint senior partner Maurice Cohen said the news was "a great surprise". "One may not agree with his management style, but you can say in their own way, Dibbs has got it right."
Leeds lawyers perceived Rhodes as "focused, serious, and aggressive", said Cohen.
Jeremy Sutcliffe, an Eversheds partner who trained under Rhodes, said: "There's a lot of the pantomime tiger in him, but that's not to say he's not got real teeth. He's really quite shy underneath the big bad wolf exterior."