Is Cheyne the next in line to lead Linklaters?

Is there going to be a standoff between finance and corporate at Linklaters? As we revealed in our weekly news email last Wednesday, Linklaters’ head of corporate David Cheyne is stepping down, ostensibly to return to full-time client work. However, as any fule kno, his eye is on the role of senior partner, replacing Anthony Cann later this year.

Cheyne is playing his cards close to his chest, but all his corporate colleagues would be delighted to run his campaign for him. Cheyne engenders fantastic loyalty, not least at the way he’s championed younger partners and shoehorned them into his own client relationships.

The block corporate vote at Linklaters has historically held sway, but this time round there’s a new factor. The finance practice has been rejuvenated in the past five years through a mix of ferociously committed client management and some eye-catching lateral hires. For example, in 2003 it generated fabulously good figures, while the corporate group struggled – indeed, the performance of the finance group stopped Linklaters’ profit rot that year.

Head of finance, and touted by many as a serious candidate, is Giles White. In a contested election, his track record will speak for itself. But some people are talking about another potential contender from the finance practice – banking and restructuring partner Robert Elliott. Elliott’s legendary charm sets him apart from most other Linklaters partners, but in truth it’s probably not his turn yet.

Other sources argue that the third global practice head, Christopher Style, may also stand. Style is an engaging fellow, but his practice area, which includes real estate, litigation and IP, has been a trickier portfolio to manage.

But it’s not just about the power play between the three practice groups. The question Linklaters’ partners should ask themselves is who is best placed to stand up to managing partner Tony Angel. Angel has dominated the firm for the past four years and has an unassailable grasp of detail. If only for good governance, Linklaters needs a senior partner who is not afraid of creative friction.

So the job looks to be Cheyne’s for the asking. In fact, the real worry for Linklaters’ partners is that by some ballot-box freakery, he won’t get the job. If that happens, then the whole of Silk Street will be on tenterhooks. The last thing Linklaters’ partners want is for Cheyne to take up that standing offer from Sullivan & Cromwell.