IP exits add to Mayer Brown lev fin walkouts

Mayer Brown’s London office has been hit by two more partner exits in London after the firm announced the closure of its London trademarks practice.

Ian Coles
Ian Coles

IP partners Ian Wood and Mary Bagnall, who have left to join Charles Russell, are the fifth partners to leave the firm’s City office since December. In a statement, the firm says: “Trademarks and design filing work does not fit in with the direction of our IP practice for the future,” adding: “We continue to work in all other areas of IP.”

The firm has also hit back at accusations that its ­leveraged finance team is in turmoil following the ­departures of Lee Cullinane and Jacqueline Evans last month.

“There’s a serious chance the department could implode,” posted one user on TheLawyer.com. “Someone needs to take hold of the reins, but it’s unclear how the department’s fortunes will be reversed in the short term.”

Others have questioned the wisdom of Mayer Brown setting up a leveraged finance team at the lowest point of the economic downturn.

“It was an easy time to pick up acquisition finance partners, but they obviously didn’t integrate with the rest of the finance team,” one ­former Mayer Brown ­partner tells The Lawyer.

Cullinane and Evans joined the firm in 2009, from Clifford Chance and Allen & Overy (A&O) respectively, to spearhead the firm’s push into leveraged finance in London. They were joined by ­partners Nicola Marley from Linklaters, Graham Wedlake from Taylor ­Wessing, John Clark from Clifford Chance and Neil Caddy from A&O.

While Evans and ­Cullinane were unavailable for comment, sources cite several possible reasons behind their departures, including their frustration at Mayer Brown’s lack of a high-yield capability in ­London and Cullinane being overlooked for the role of London finance head, which went to Dominic Griffiths last ­summer.

Mayer Brown head of finance in Europe Ian Coles, who sits on the firm’s partnership board, insists that the firm does not regret its aggressive push into the leveraged finance space and dismisses claims that the departures of Evans and Cullinane are a catastrophic setback for the firm.

Explaining the firm’s ­original decision to move into leveraged finance, he says: “Growing the London finance group as a whole has always been an important goal of the firm, and to
have a sustainable finance ­practice in London to ­complement the US.

“In the past we’d always ranked highly for areas such as structured finance and derivatives, but we didn’t have that bit in the middle – a leveraged finance ­practice that defines relationships with financial institutions.

“We always thought of it as a two- or three-year ­project, so it did come as a surprise when they told us they wanted to leave.”

Coles says the firm does not regret the spate of hires it made in 2009.

“You need to look back at what we’ve done in the past couple of years,” he says. “We’re now up to 52 lawyers in the finance practice, which is one of the largest outside the magic circle in London.

Coles points to the fact that last year the finance team won places on both the Lloyds TSB and Nomura panels for the first time as evidence of its strength.

The firm will also continue to recruit in finance and is looking to bring in a high-yield capability.

What will concern the firm is the fact that Evans and Cullinane are not the only lawyers to have left the firm recently. Earlier this month it saw three ­defections from its Hong Kong office, with partner Nick Longley and associate Richard Lyons leaving for Holman Fenwick & Willan and consultant Kingsley Ong jumping ship to Eversheds.

In London the loss of ­construction partner Nick Henchie is seen as a ­potentially bigger setback than those of Cullinane and Evans.

As one ex-partner ­says: “Nick was one of ­the brightest partners the firm has produced for a long time.”