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The times they are a-changing at Simmons & Simmons - which is exactly the reason why former managing partner David Dickinson is only an outside bet for senior partner.
Despite his shyness, Dickinson is well liked at Simmons. Although his final term as managing partner was a nightmare, with profit per equity partner (PEP) plummeting 33.3 per cent from £412,000 to £275,000, and a steady procession of partners leaving.
Not so long ago, most of the legal market was predicting that Simmons was going to 'do a Hammonds', but those same gossips are now looking to Lovells and Norton Rose for their fix of schadenfreude.
Dickinson's successor, Mark Dawkins, has rightly gained plaudits for overseeing a financial revival that has seen PEP rocket by 40 per cent, but he will acknowledge the groundwork that Dickinson did to make the revival possible. So Dickinson has his partners' respect, but not their love. As one former partner put it: "David had a hard job to do, but he didn't need to perform it like the grim reaper."
Simmons partners held their annual meeting on Friday (10 March) to hear the manifestos of Dickinson, Italy managing partner Richard Slater, senior litigator Philip Vaughan and Rotterdam partner Ralph Kröner. However, the feeling of many is that their minds are made up.
Vaughan considered throwing his hat into the ring when Janet Gaymer stood last time round. He certainly has the love that Dickinson lacks, but does not quite have the same profile, either internally or in the City, that Simmons partners will demand of their new senior partner.
Despite plans for a second Dutch office (see page 2), Kröner is the curveball candidate and is on the ballot simply to acknowledge the fact that more than 50 per cent of Simmons' revenue comes from outside the UK.
Which leaves Slater. As Italy managing partner he has turned around a practice that was little short of catastrophic. This will have needed a great deal of charm and diplomacy - qualities Slater has in abundance. He is also highly regarded by the hedge finds and real estate funds that Simmons is targeting directly.
Slater's only problem may be the perception that he is too close to Dawkins, but they'll need to work closely to decide what to do with the commercial team, which has just lost its highest-billing client (in this case the MoD) for the second time in three years. In fact, it is Slater's cosiness with the current management that could be Dickinson's best hope.