Will Stephen Lucas be value for money for Kirkland?

Top-dollar lawyer Stephen Lucas will have to bring home the bacon for Kirkland

Is any lawyer worth busting your firm’s compensation structure for? Perhaps one at the pinnacle of their niche in the market.

This is the quandary that faced Weil Gotshal & Manges back in 2011 when it hired Linklaters partner Stephen Lucas to head its City banking practice. And it’s the same one Kirkland & Ellis is likely to have grappled with before its recent raid on Weil for Lucas.

Of course, Lucas’ reputation precedes him. As one recruitment consultant puts it, “he’s the key superstar in finance in London”.

Back in 2011 Weil brought Lucas straight into the upper echelons of its pay structure, with a pay packet of more than $3.9m (£2.3m) – reportedly less than the US management but more than City office key players including London managing partner Mike Francies and co-head of the firm’s global private equity group Marco Compagnoni.

However, as his three-year guarantee came to an end, Lucas settled on an offer from Kirkland, which is believed to have put more than $4m on the table. Some say the total could be twice that.

News of the move came as a shock to many, not only at Weil but at Kirkland too, where a number of partners had no idea high-level negotiations were unfolding.

It is likely that the move is not just about money. Lucas joined Weil with a mandate to build out the borrower practice on the back of its private equity (PE) offering. He did this with some success, advising the likes of Advent on its buyout of KMD and CBPE Capital on its investment in JTC Group.

He hired a couple of partners from Hogan Lovells, Mark Donald and Chris McLaughlin, as well as James Hogben from Ashurst, all with practices straddling lender and borrower financing.

Lucas also nabbed Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer high-yield chief Gil Strauss last year to bulk up City junior debt. And just last month the firm poached Goldman Sachs star Andrew Wilkinson to boost its companies-side business via its restructuring practice.

But it has not all been plain sailing at Weil. The exit of PE partner Mark Soundy, alongside tax partner Sarah Priestley and up-and-coming PE associate Simon Burrows for Shearman & Sterling, left a dent in its sponsor-side practice, diluting the firm’s relationship with the likes of Arle, Bridgepoint and Permira. In response, it is understood that Lucas was encouraged to take on more lender-side work.

Lucas should be a good fit with Kirkland’s borrower-focused practice, which gets a hefty chunk of its mandates from Bain Capital, but also lists 3i and Cinven on its books. He knows Kirkland’s London chief Graham White, having overlapped with the partner for a couple of years at Linklaters.

As the dust settles, Kirkland will hope its newest partner was worth the investment, and that this time Lucas is in for the long haul.