Earlier this month Sullivan & Cromwell unveiled a new management line-up for its London office. The firm is the latest in a line of top US firms to replace their senior lawyers recently.
The move, which saw M&A partner Rich Morrissey take over from co-managing partners Rob Schlein and Vanessa Blackmore, provides a neat excuse to examine the often radically different approach to law firm management taken by elite firms in the US compared with their typically heavily managed counterparts in the UK.
Morrissey, previously co-head of Sullivan’s global private equity group and the European M&A group, claims that at his firm management is more of a punishment than a reward.
“We’re much more informal about management here than at some other firms – our lawyers tend to be focused on their practice, not management,” says Morrissey.
Management here is almost an afterthought. You’re expected to continue with your full client load. Lawyers don’t lobby for management positions here.”
While Davis Polk & Wardwell saw new firmwide management earlier this year in the shape of a Scot, Tom Reid, in London the other big appointment was that of Shearman & Sterling Emea project finance and development head Nick Buckworth as UK managing partner.
Buckworth replaced banking colleague Anthony Ward, who moved over to Shearman’s four-person global executive group along with Matt Bersani, Peter Lyons and Donna Parisi.
The projects specialist says his firm takes a similar view of management to Sullivan’s.
“First and foremost you’re a transactions lawyer who’s expected to make a significant contribution to the success of the business,” says Buckworth. “But as a firm in the past few years we’ve moved away from being mainly about revenue generation and towards valuing the concept of driving the business forward through factors including client relationships, mentoring and involving younger partners.”
Buckworth stresses that Shearman sees itself as a global firm rather than as a US firm with foreign offices.
“More than 50 per cent of our revenue comes from outside the US,” he explains. “That means there’s potentially a much bigger role for the London managing partner than in the past, keeping an eye on the strategic objectives of the office within the wider objectives of the firm.”
Shearman’s past three London managing partners have all been British, a point that Buckworth believes underlines the importance the firm places on the capital.
While Morrissey is an American, unlike Brit predecessor Blackmore, the lawyer claims his firm is “agnostic when it comes to nationalities”, a point he also makes when discussing the lawyer who has taken over from him as European head of M&A, Tim Emmerson.
“There’s no significance to the fact that he’s English,” insists Morrissey. “If you’re good then it’s logical you should run the practice. Over time the US influence in London will erode by definition as the number of US lawyers by aggregate goes down while the office grows.”
Morrissey also downplays any significance in the fact that Sullivan in London has moved from having co-managing partners to a single partner.
“Prior to Vanessa and Rob it was always one managing partner,” he says. “Now we’re at one and a half with Craig’s [Jones, the corporate partner appointed to the new position of London office administrative head] position.
“It’s important for people not to be in the managing partner position for too long. It can be distracting from what you’re supposed to be doing as a lawyer, which is advising clients.”