The Lawyer UK 200 Rank10

Ashurst (previously Ashurst Morris Crisp) is an ancient firm – the one from which Slaughter and May sprang. It’s also the only law firm with a ballad written about one of its founders by a Beatle (George Harrison’s Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp). Very corporate-led from the start, the firm had a major public company client base. In the 1990s it had a headline practice in private equity at a time when virtually no other firm apart from Clifford Chance

Ashurst (previously Ashurst Morris Crisp) is an ancient firm – the one from which Slaughter and May sprang. It’s also the only law firm with a ballad written about one of its founders by a Beatle (George Harrison’s Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp).

Very corporate-led from the start, the firm had a major public company client base. In the 1990s it had a headline practice in private equity at a time when virtually no other firm apart from Clifford Chance did it.

In the 1990s Ashurst also hired a team from Barlow Lyde & Gilbert, led by Stephen Mostyn-Williams, to target acquisition finance. It was a highly visible team that would eventually weave in serious capability in Paris, although Mostyn-Williams and others would depart to Shearman & Sterling in 1998. It was the first of many US raids on the firm, since Ashurst had exactly the sort of practice that US entrants to the London market wanted.

Speaking of Americans, Ashurst held merger talks with Latham & Watkins in 2000 which fell through over the topic of profitability. The failure to seal the deal has famously gone down in history as Ashurst’s biggest-ever mistake, but at the time Latham was seen as one of many major US firms, and there wasn’t much of a template for US-UK deals. Within a couple of years, however, Ashurst was back in American merger talks, this time with Fried Frank.

Geoffrey Green
Geoffrey Green

A key figure of those years was Geoffrey Green. Green had been instrumental in building the firm’s private equity practice as corporate head and led the two sets of merger talks alongside managing partner Justin Spendlove, one of the debt finance partners who stayed at Ashurst after Mostyn-Williams went to Shearman. Not long after the merger talks with Fried Frank broke down, Spendlove left to join that firm.

Green, however, stayed with Ashurst, moving to Hong Kong after his term as senior partner came to an end to run the firm’s Asian practice. In this capacity he was closely involved with Ashurst’s most significant merger to date, the tie-up with Australia’s Blake Dawson. The deal saw Blakes rebrand as Ashurst Australia.

Head of securities and structured finance Erica Handling was another important figure of the 2000s – her practice thrived in the boom years and she was part of the team that developed an alliance with US firm McKee Nelson, which eventually led to Ashurst launching in Washington and New York in 2009, taking 11 McKees partners and paying them top of the range. Handling later left for Barclays Capital, then Blackrock, while of the 11 lawyers who joined from McKee Nelson, 10 had departed by 2017.

When The Lawyer coined the term ‘silver circle’ in 2005, Ashurst was included as a UK-centric firm with a premium client base, high profit and a focus on private equity. In the years since then it has become considerably more international; however, and The Lawyer no longer places it in the same bracket as the likes of Macfarlanes and Travers Smith.

Geffen-Charlie-2014
Charlie Geffen

Charlie Geffen took over as senior partner after the crash and had to deal with a major amount of partnership restructuring. Alongside Green, he brokered the merger deal with Blake Dawson at a time when many major firms were launching in the Asia-Pacific region.

After the Blakes deal, Ashurst was no longer so dominated by corporate, becoming in headcount terms much heavier on project finance and infrastructure thanks to the Australian influence.

Ben Tidswell
Ben Tidswell

Geffen was ousted as senior partner in 2013. The outcome of the vote came as a shock to many, both in and outside the firm. Litigation partner Ben Tidswell replaced him in the newly created role of chair. It was unusual for Ashurst to elect a litigator to such a senior position.

Also in 2013, the firm transferred a large proportion of its London support staff to a new low-cost office in Glasgow, headed by high-profile former Dundas & Wilson partner Michael Polson.

TRAINING CONTRACTS

What is the trainee salary at Ashurst?

1st year trainee: £42,000

2nd year trainee: £47,000

What is the NQ salary at Ashurst?

NQ: £72,000 

Number of trainees: 86

ASHURST FACTS

Founded: 1822

Location: Liverpool Street

Managing partner Senior partner London managing partner
1992 Andrew Soundy Andrew Soundy
1997 Ian Nisse
1998 Geoffrey Green
2000 Justin Spendlove
2004 Simon Bromwich
2008 Charlie Geffen
2012 James Collis Chair
2013 Ben Tidswell
2016 Paul Jenkins
2017                                     Simon Beddow (role created)