Orrick loses London chief as DLA swoops

Question mark hangs over Orrick’s troubled London office as Johnson is latest key partner to quit

National firm DLA is circling the London office of San Francisco-based Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe as it successfully pulls off a deal with the office’s managing partner.

Orrick’s London managing partner and project finance specialist Ian Johnson is joining DLA’s commercial and projects group before April. The move comes only months after securitisation partner Tamara Box moved to Ernst & Young’s associated law firm Tite & Lewis (The Lawyer, 20 November), citing the firm’s lack of investment in the office as one of her reasons for leaving.

A source close to Orrick reveals that several of Johnson’s colleagues are currently in talks with DLA. Following his departure, the office will have six partners and five associates.

Johnson’s appointment is a real coup for DLA as he has turned down a number of UK magic circle and US international firms.

Orrick’s partner in charge of international strategy Michael Meyers says that he sees Johnson’s move to a national law firm as a career change.

But Johnson says he is developing his practice. “DLA has achieved a great deal in building a successful PFI group in the UK, and now they’re rolling out the ball in Europe,” he says. “The move will help me to take my energy and communications practice to the next level.”

Johnson specialises in project finance in energy and natural resources. He is also well known in the UK for advising on taxation issues for clients in the UK and abroad.

Although he will be based in London, Johnson is expected to play an influential role in building the firm’s European utilities practice. He expects a number of clients to follow him in his move, and Orrick’s clients include GlobalCenter, which recently pulled off a $5bn (£3.46bn) merger with Exodus Communications.

Exodus is also a DLA client, which, according to DLA managing partner Nigel Knowles, is “further proof that Johnson and DLA is a good match”. Other DLA clients include CAE Electronics, Marconi, SocGen and Connex.

An Orrick spokesman says the firm’s London focus has been on the securitisation practice, and that project finance is under-resourced. But despite the fact that two other project finance partners remain in the London office, he says it is unlikely that other Orrick partners will follow Johnson.

A source close to Orrick, though, claims that the firm’s breakdown in talks with Bird & Bird last year and its failure to invest in a broad London practice has left a number of big clients looking to other firms for tax and employment advice.

“Orrick’s London office is in trouble. It needs to find another UK merger partner or hire more partners quickly,” says the source.

However, Meyers says that the firm is committed to its London office. “Our ambition is to build a broad practice, which includes having a projects finance group,” he says.