You get the impression that Simpson Thacher & Bartlett partners are a patient bunch. After three years of wooing pretty much every finance partner in the magic circle it finally got its man with the hire of Allen & Overy's Euan Gorrie.
With its US acquisition finance franchise, Simpson Thacher has always been more open than the likes of Cravath to the possibilities in the London market (although there are, by the way, persistent rumours that Cravath was after Gorrie as well, which really would have represented a sea change).
There's no question that the Gorrie hire is defensive. It has its roots in the gigantic Olivetti-Telecom Italia deal back in 1999, when Simpson advised Chase (now JPMorgan Chase), Lehman Brothers and DLJ. During that deal Simpson suddenly realised that its lack of UK capability meant it was being sidelined. But Gorrie hasn't been hired because of his work with the likes of Lehman, WestLB or Fuji. Simpson emphatically does not need a client-getter, it needs a strong finance partner to service JPMorgan Chase and private equity house KKR, which has been spectacularly active this year.
The Gorrie hire will spawn all the usual big-picture guff about the US-UK law firm battle, but the most interesting effects will be more localised.
Take KKR. Clifford Chance's Daniel Kossoff has traditionally had a lock on KKR here, but all of a sudden here's Simpson Thacher able to handle the UK borrower work. And on the banking side, lenders are suddenly a lot less keen to employ one law firm for both senior debt and high-yield. As we reported last week, Goldman Sachs – which pioneered the use of one-stop shop law firms on debt – has started to rethink its position on Chinese walls. You can bet that ambitious smaller players such as Latham & Watkins and Cadwalader are just itching to get a piece of the action.
The likes of JPMorgan Chase – which, by the way, A&O has a fabulous relationship with, especially since the Norton Rose team joined – suddenly has a lot more choice in the market. It's not just about Simpson Thacher. Even embattled Norton Rose has boosted its prospects with the rehiring of Philip Whale, who had helped build up the Chase relationship.
Just when we thought the UK acquisition finance market was sewn up by A&O and Clifford Chance, it suddenly gets volatile. And guess what? It may suddenly get rather bitchy.