US firms circle Ashurst as Shearman and Debevoise lure away top players

US firms have turned their acquisitive attentions to Ashurst as, in a shock move, former managing partner Ian Nisse moves to Shearman & Sterling and Jeremy Hill, head of the financial institutions, products and services group, prepares to join Debevoise & Plimpton.

The two senior partner defections have hit Ashurst just days after the Paris legal market was rocked by the revelation that private equity star Thomas Forschbach is leaving for Latham & Watkins, as first revealed by www.thelawyer. com (26 August).

Since early last year, 12 partners have left Ashurst, although 50 per cent of them were cut from the equity in the wake of declining profits. Profit per equity partner in 2003-04 dipped by 11.7 per cent on the previous year to £521,000.

The wave of departures to US firms – which includes banking partner Stephen Short’s move to Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and the exit of Justin Spendlove, Nisse’s successor as managing partner, to one-time merger partner Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson – follows a similar trend that hit Linklaters.

Nisse will lead the London real estate practice at Shearman, the firm to which Ashurst lost five banking partners between 1997 and 2000, the duration of Nisse’s tenure as managing partner.

It is understood that at Shearman, which operates a modified lockstep, Nisse will earn around £1m. In contrast, plateau partners at Ashurst in 2003-04 took home £681,000.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Hill, who is also a member of Ashurst’s partnership board, will join Debevoise as co-head of the global financial institutions group. Ashurst salaried partner Vivienne de Chermont will also move with Hill to take charge of the UK insurance practice.

In Paris, it is understood that salaried partner Nathalie Alibert will also join Forschbach at Latham. Exit dates for all departees have yet to be confirmed.

A spokesperson for Ashurst said: “We wish them well for the future.”