Kirkland confident despite loss of private equity ace

Kirkland & Ellis

remained upbeat about the state of its London private equity practice last week, despite the admission that high-profile hire Raymond McKeeve is to part company with the firm (first revealed on www.the, 4 March).

It is almost two years since McKeeve and colleague Graham White joined Kirkland to great fanfare, having both previously been partners at magic circle firm Linklaters. Under White’s lead they were charged with building up the firm’s private equity practice across Europe.

Although it is some years since White and McKeeve have teamed up on deals, they are widely regarded as a double act. Kirkland’s London office head Jim Learner said that as McKeeve and White have worked closely together, their clients are known to each other. He believes this means McKeeve’s clients are likely to stay with the firm.

“A lot of Raymond’s clients have relationships with Graham and other people at Kirkland & Ellis,” he said. “Our intention is that those clients will continue to come to Kirkland & Ellis. Other people here will step up.”

Had McKeeve been moving to another firm, clients, such as Montagu Private Equity and property tycoon Robert Tchenguiz, would possibly have followed. However, McKeeve said he is to leave the firm for a non-legal industry role.

Refusing to confirm his destination, McKeeve said: “The organisation I’m going to doesn’t want any publicity until I’ve got an exit date. I’ve got a handful of important transactions on at the moment that could take two, three or even five months to complete.”

Regardless of his new role, private equity partners at rival firms have questioned whether the loss of McKeeve’s client list would actually come as a blow to the firm.

“His core clients were Montagu and Tchenguiz,” said one. “He knew guys at Apax Partners, CVC Capital Partners and TDR Capital Partners but they rely on Graham White.”

While McKeeve and White were hired by Kirkland for their client-pulling skills, in reality, their client list is not that long.

A rival partner said that White has good cameo relationships with the likes of Apax, but pointed out that the private equity house turns to a roster of firms including Ashurst, Clifford Chance and Travers Smith, all of which have bigger private equity teams.

“You can’t serve institutional relationships like Apax with one partner because you can’t do more than one job at once,” he said. “You have to have a team of five partners to get volumes of work from them.”

White does receive the majority of instructions from CCMP Capital, formerly JPMorgan Partners, but this is a small house that tends to handle one transaction at a time.

Furthermore, observers said that just because lawyers’ names are not attached to high-profile deals, it does not mean they are not receiving covetable instructions.

As one rival commented: “Just because you’re not seeing people nailing deals doesn’t mean they’re not being instructed by really good clients. There are so many auctions and aborted deals and people still get instructed.”