London office scrambles to keep Hicks Muse as Burton quits for Ashursts; UK debt capability shattered
The London office of New York firm Weil Gotshal & Manges is battling to keep hold of top client Hicks Muse Tate & Furst following the departure of its only remaining English-qualified banking partner. Helen Burton is leaving to join Ashurst Morris Crisp's banking team. She follows the securitisation team, led by Erica Handling, which moved there from Weil Gotshal (The Lawyer, 26 March). Although Burton has resigned from Weil Gotshal, she is still negotiating her departure. She is currently working on closing Hicks Muse's latest deal - its acquisition of Yell from BT for £2.14bn. The firm has admitted that it is worried about the future of every client. The corporate side of the Yell deal was led by London managing partner Mike Francies, with Burton and senior associate Richard Ginsberg running the debt side. Hicks Muse is understood to have previously met with Ashursts' corporate partners, and the private equity partners there, led by Charlie Geffen, will now hope to capitalise on that fledgling relationship. For many US private equity houses the ability to service the debt side is crucial. Burton's departure is the last in a long line from Weil Gotshal's once top-ranking banking practice in London. Head of banking Maurice Allen moved with three banking partners to White & Case and his successor as head of department James Chesterman then left to join Latham & Watkins. Now that Burton has left, the banking group is left with US head of banking Ron Daitz who relocated to London at the end of last year (The Lawyer, 9 September 2000), and Bruce Johnston, an English-qualified project finance partner. Daitz said: "Even before Helen told me she was leaving, we'd been engaged in an intensive search for additional banking capacity to help service our clients in what was a growing finance practice here. We have 30 finance lawyers who cover a range of activities, and we expect to be able to service our clients with the same kind of energy that we had before." The Hicks Muse relationship was borne out of the US, where Weil Gotshal has known the client for a long time. Daitz admits that he is worried about the ongoing relationship in London. He said: "I'm worried about every client. Clients are very sophisticated. For the next transaction, we'll present a team [to Hicks Muse] who will look at it. There are people here who have worked on their matters and who they are very comfortable with. Richard happens to know them very well, so I'd assume they'd be comfortable with him, because they have been in the past. Resources have always been our problem in this office." Hicks Muse was unavailable for comment.