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Stephenson Harwood is losing key shipping finance partner Helen Boyle to Addleshaw Booth & Co's banking department - a move which is generating huge interest among shipping specialists.
Boyle's move coincides with the resignation of two shipping assistants, John Sandhu and another, whom the firm is yet to confirm. Sandhu is heading for an investment bank.
Their departures follow what some industry watchers claim is a change of emphasis at the firm, away from its core area of shipping law to a more broad-based, City-style practice.
Stephenson Harwood's top shipping lawyer David Slade also stepped down as senior partner and moved to the firm's Greek office this year.
But Stephenson Harwood vigorously denies that the firm is downgrading its shipping practice.
A spokesman says: "We are certainly not looking to run down our shipping practice."
Boyle, who focused on asset finance in the firm's shipping finance group, admits that the move will be a change in focus.
She says: "I have been given a great opportunity to join a firm in Manchester, where I'm from."
Three shipping finance partners remain in London, but Stephenson Harwood has no immediate plans to replace Boyle, says the firm's spokesman.
Frank Dunne, partner at rival firm Watson Farley & Williams, says: "Helen Boyle was typically the partner responsible for the Midland account. With less emphasis on ship finance it may well be that the client relationship would suffer, but there is no general downturn in shipping work."
The Stephenson Harwood spokesman says the move is "a very good opportunity" for Boyle, whose clients will remain with the firm.