Kevin Dunn, European general counsel at GE Capital and soon to be US firm Latham & Watkins’ new acquisition finance partner, has a little black book.
But Dunn’s is different from most – it is a hulking great file detailing interesting little snippets of banking law since he first qualified in 1988. “I have always kept a know-how file – little oddities that have been useful and things that have been used very often,” he says.
Keeping a scrapbook on the “best of banking law” pretty much sums Dunn up. He is a man who never makes a career move without undergoing a serious amount of due diligence.
On his impending move to the West Coast firm’s London office, Dunn says: “I have done quite a lot of due diligence of my own and everyone says that it is an excellent firm. I have not had anyone expressing any reservations and I have spoken to a lot of people.”
Dunn’s 13-year career has spanned UK private practice, in-house and now a US firm. His need for change is reflected in the experience he had in at the start of his career in 1988 when Herbert Oppenheimer Nathan & Vanayk merged with Denton Hall Burgin & Warren, eventually to become Denton Wilde Sapte. “I did half my articles at [the firm] which in the mid-1980s was medium to large. The majority of people ended up at Denton Hall and some went to Richards Butler.”
But Dunn chose a different path. “I left halfway through my articles because Travers Smith Braithwaite was advertising for banking lawyers and I figured that if it needed senior people it might need newly-qualifieds,” he says.
Dunn concedes that it was an unusual way to begin his life as a lawyer, but it afforded him the best of both worlds. “I went [to Travers Smith] in May 1988 and did the last five months of my articles in the corporate department, which is really good because I experienced that department which is really strong, but I also got Oppenheimer’s property and banking which was also equally as good.”
Dunn says that it was his experience in banking law at Oppenheimer – under the guidance of Colin Bamford, now chief executive of the Financial Law Panel – which made him the lawyer he is today. It was also through Bamford that Dunn was inspired to begin his album on “everything you wanted to know about banking law but were afraid to ask”.
He explains: “Bamford really liked the subject and mixed an academic look at it as well as being very practical. He was a nice guy who got on with his clients.”
This ethos was one that served Dunn well – when he began practising at Travers Smith he was one of only three lawyers, including Graham Wedlake, now head of banking at Barlow Lyde & Gilbert, in the firm’s burgeoning banking department. “What was fun about being in a small department was that if there was more than one deal at any one time then I was doing deal number two, so as a very junior assistant I was running transactions,” he says. “Sometimes it was intimidating because you are not always sure of your own knowledge when you are starting out at 25-years-old.”
Dunn stayed at Travers Smith for 10 years, only leaving when he felt that he needed a new challenge. “I was getting a bit bored and the practice was getting a bit samey,” he says bluntly.
According to Dunn, the firm’s private equity department was “fantastically successful” at the time, even though it was becoming increasingly difficult to compete against the magic circle for banking work. “It’s the IBM factor isn’t? You are not going to be criticised for instructing Freshfields, Clifford Chance or Allen & Overy because that is what they are known for so why take a risk on a smaller firm?” he says.
In 1998, Dunn made the move in-house to GE Capital as European general counsel. While he concedes that he learned a great deal at the company, he says: “We hadn’t been as fast at developing out larger asset-based lending business as expected. “That’s probably a feature of the economy, it is quite strong at the moment and we are probably better when things are tough because we have quite an aggressive return criteria so buyers can shop around on the basis of the price.”
His time spent in-house has proved invaluable in terms of cross-jurisdictional transactions and strengthening his knowledge about European insolvency law. These are major assets considering the work Dunn will be doing at Lathams in acquisition finance, which will inevitably involve working on leveraged buyouts. “[Lathams] is clearly only one of a few firms that has got that capability on the high-yield side and is in a commanding position,” he says.
It was through old colleague Michael Bond, who left Travers Smith to join Lathams, that Dunn first heard of a post there. “We were having lunch five months ago and we got round to talking about this. It wasn’t deliberate but it made me stop and think in the same way I did when I was at Travers Smith.”
While his moves seem calculated, Dunn insists that his decision to work in a variety of different practices has been based more on luck than anything else. “I would be deluding myself if I said it was a game plan I had hatched when I was 19. I think to some extent it is just where the cards have fallen,” he quips.
But Maurice Allen, head of banking at White & Case who has worked opposite Dunn on transactions, says that now is the right time for him to return to private practice. “He is a very able lawyer and it is a good thing that he is going back to private practice. He is very likeable so I’m very pleased for him.”
Whether it is luck or not, Dunn’s obvious delight at joining Lathams will provide him with yet another excuse to update his ever-growing scrapbook. “I can see something where the firm can make a difference,” he says.
Acquisition finance partner
Latham & Watkins