London associates come out smiling in US partnership race

The first wave of US partner promotions is upon us – and it looks like being a good, but not a record, year for associates in London.

Of the firms to announce promotions so far, Kirkland & Ellis has made up both the highest number of new partners and the largest number of new partners in the UK. In total the firm elected 64 associates to the partnership, with three in London.

At Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy, London has done well. With six new partners across the firm, two are in the City.

The news at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton is very similar. The firm has promoted two partners and one of counsel in London, with six other new partners and five counsel around the world. This is a much higher number than in recent years, with promotions not exceededing five associates worldwide and with just one partner – competition specialist Shaun Goodman – being promoted in London.

Meanwhile at Latham & Watkins, just one lawyer has been made up in London, although the firm has promoted 25 associates and one counsel to the partnership in total. One new UK partner is all that was on the cards for Sullivan & Cromwell, too, with seven other promotions worldwide.

For Milbank and Kirkland the number of UK promotions matches their previous records for new partners in London. Kirkland made up three partners in the UK in 2003, following that by promoting one associate in each of the past two years. However, with total promotions at a record of 64, the proportion of new partners in the City has actually dropped.

Kirkland’s new UK partners are an international and youthful group. Christopher Field and Abrielle Rosenthal have been made up in corporate. Rosenthal is a US native, having joined Kirkland in 2000 upon her qualification to the New York bar. She was admitted as an English solicitor in 2003. Field is an even newer arrival at Kirkland. South African by birth, he joined Kirkland a year ago after five years at Slaughter and May – the move paying off with a quick-fire promotion to the firm’s expanding UK corporate team. London corporate partner James Learner told The Lawyer that the promotions reflected the firm’s “commitment to build for the future”.

Kirkland’s other UK promotion was that of banking specialist Neel Sachdev, who unlike his colleagues is British. However, like Field and Rosenthal, Sachdev is also young in comparison with those who achieve partnership at many UK firms, having qualified in 2000.

Sachdev is one of a new generation of lawyers at US firms in London who have spent all their professional lives with their firms. Another new partner in the same mould is Cleary’s new finance partner Raj Panasar, who joined the firm upon qualification in 1997.

Panesar is joined on the promotion list by fellow UK lawyer Tihir Sarkar, a more recent arrival at Cleary, with just three years on the clock at the firm. Like Kirkland, the focus at Cleary is on corporate and finance law, reflecting the current activity in the market.

Indeed, only Milbank and Sullivan & Cromwell have chosen to promote a London associate who does not practise corporate or finance law. Sean Keaton, an outsourcing and IT specialist picked out by The Lawyer Hot 100 in 2005, when he was described as “one to watch”, has been made up two years after joining Milbank from Clifford Chance.

Sullivan has selected competition specialist Juan Rodriguez as the firm’s only new partner in London, its second new UK partner in two years after several years of drought.

At Latham, American Brett Cassidy – who is not qualified as a solicitor – was deemed to be the only associate of enough years’ qualification to be promoted, having qualified in 1998. He practises cross-border capital markets.

If other firms follow the lead of the early promoters, by the new year there will be quite a few more corporate and finance partners based in US firms in the City. Associates in other practice areas, however, face another year’s wait.