NY giant continues global advance as CC’s Signy signs up for the ride. By Julia Berris

Adam Signy

Adam Signy

It Is not every day that Simpson Thacher & Bartlett makes a lateral hire. Which is why the UK and Manhattan legal communities were agog to see that the elite New York firm had snared UK corporate star Adam Signy from Clifford Chance to bolster its UK office.

In terms of quality Signy fits the Simpson bill. As private equity house Candover’s key relationship partner at Clifford Chance, Signy has been a bright star at the firm.

But what does it mean for ­Simpson Thacher’s London office?

In terms of physical presence, it is a pretty big deal. The US firm only has 11 partners on the ground in London and around 40 fee-earners in total. Signy’s move ­signals a move towards increased UK law capabilities in an office that has until now focused purely on serving its US clients.

“Adam’s a fantastic lawyer who fits in very well with our team,” says Simpson Thacher chairman Pete Ruegger. “We wanted to increase our UK law capabilities because that’s what our clients need. Having said that, we don’t feel we need to expand much more in London. We won’t be recruiting loads of lawyers in the near future.”

Ruegger’s caution for international growth is reflective of his firm. With just four offices outside the US, Simpson Thacher has never been a keen advocate of the sprawling international network.

Instead it has preferred to focus on its institutional relationships with the likes of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR) and Blackstone in London, where it has also been highly selective about its hires.

The experience of the past five years tells the story. In 2005 ­Simpson Thacher hired Allen & Overy (A&O) star acquisition finance partner Tony Keal. As ­relationship partner for KKR at A&O, Keal was a neat fit with the US firm, which at the time lacked the UK law capabilities it needed to fully serve the private equity giant on its international deals.

Then there was London-based partner Euan Gorrie, who left A&O in 2002 and who has been instrumental in driving the Blackstone acquisition finance relationship.

Despite Simpson Thacher’s ­historic emphasis on private ­equity, Ruegger is keen to stress that London has more to offer, ­particularly during the downturn.
“Deals have changed, but our clients are still very busy,” insists Ruegger. “As well as corporate finance and private equity expertise, we have restructuring and litigation capabilities. We also have real estate capabilities on the ground.”

Hiring Signy during a time when private equity dealflow is significantly down may seem counterintuitive. But like Keal’s hire it lends Simpson Thacher’s London office additional kudos and puts it firmly in the London legal market limelight.

“It’s a big deal,” one Manhattan-based partner says. “Simpson’s never made a serious play in the London market. This shows the firm’s serious about its UK office. It could be that international is more important to them now.”

Last month, when The Lawyer reported on the US top 30 firms by London revenue for the 2008 financial year, Simpson Thacher came in at 19 after reporting a 6 per cent drop in revenue to $56.3m (£37.37m).

The figure is in line with global performance, with the firm reporting a 6 per cent drop in revenue, from $958m to $904m last year.

Hires such as Signy’s, coupled with an arguably more open ­attitude to international growth, should underpin the firm during the difficult times. But there are other signs that this international push is underway. Last year the firm launched an office in São Paulo, temporarily relocating New York-based partners Jaime Mercado and Todd Crider to the city.

Simpson Thacher is and will always be a New York firm. But big moves in London and office launches internationally could be the dawning of a new era.