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Senior Slaughter and May corporate partner Michael Pescod is retiring from the firm in July.
Pescod's departure from one of the industry's closest partnerships will come as a shock to the City.
He is one of the highest billing lawyers in the market and last year racked up a deal value of £63.3bn on just two deals. He acted for Glaxo Wellcome on its merger with SmithKline Beecham and represented Unilever on its $20.3bn (£13.8bn) October takeover of Bestfoods.
The internal announcement on 9 March comes little more than a month after corporate partner Tim Clark beat Pescod in the race to become Slaughter's next senior partner.
Pescod, who is 55, effectively committed himself to the firm for another five years by standing for election. But a source close to the firm says his decision to quit has not come as a surprise to the partnership. The source says: "Partners at the firm have known about this for a while. Nobody would be surprised that he would be reluctant to throw himself back into fee-earning having been keen to take on a full-time management role."
Outgoing senior partner Giles Henderson denies that the departure has anything to do with the election. He says: "We've had elections before for senior partner and things have been perfectly fine. I don't think there's any big deal in this to do with that. These things are personal decisions. This certainly did not happen to people involved in the election when I became senior partner."
He adds: "I can't second guess why he has decided to retire, but I understand that he was looking to have some kind of change. I guess if he had become senior partner that would have constituted some change, which he might have been very happy with."
Henderson likens the departure to those of partners Tim Freshwater and Chris Fitzgerald in the mid-1990s. Both left late in their careers - Freshwater to join investment bank Jardine Fleming and Fitzgerald to become general counsel at NatWest.
"We don't have many people who do that, but we do have some, and there are others who decide they've had enough and want nothing at all to do with the City. I would guess that he [Pescod] is looking to do something quite significant."
Pescod was unavailable to comment on his decision to leave, or on his plans for the future.