How many partners do you think there are in Dechert‘s London office? Go on, hazard a guess. 50? 60? The real figure is 39 (including a number of de-equitised salaried partners and one newly seconded Washington DC partner). That makes London 15 per cent smaller than when it ceased to be Titmuss Sainer and bowed to the iron rule of Dechert’s global chairman Barton J Winokur three years ago.
Most UK – let alone US – firms have been trying to grow their London presence in that time. Not Dechert. Corporate insurance ace David Whear, who is moving to Norton Rose, is the latest in a long line to ship out.
Well-known former head of property Chris Edwards signalled the way of things to come with his resignation back in July 2001. Another 10 partners at least have since left – including property partners Ed Bannister and Pat Jones to Field Fisher and SJ Berwin respectively, as well as the high-profile criminal and civil fraud trio led by litigation head David Byrne. Rather than reinvent itself in line with the new firm’s core areas, Byrne’s team reached a mutual decision with management that it would launch its own boutique.
A lengthy lock-in period for legacy partners makes it notoriously difficult to get equity out of the firm, so many of those bailing out have had to brave tricky and drawn-out negotiations with management.
A resounding theme emerges: Dechert thought it could make big bucks in the UK, but Titmuss Sainer was no A&O. Property was very much its fortune. But with the US pushing hard for a re-engineering of the old firm into higher value areas of work, more and more partners have lost their taste for Dechert. Many of those to go had practices with adistinctly UK flavour.
Perhaps more worrying are those who joined Dechert post-merger and have chosen not to stay – young insolvency partner Ben Larkin, who left for Berwin Leighton Paisner, springs to mind, as does ex-Clifford Chance securitisation specialist Richard Ambery, who went to Mayer Brown.
Add to all this partner-level movement the recent round of assistant and support staff redundancies, and you can imagine why some of those left at 2 Serjeants Inn are feeling rather unsettled.
Is the US asking too much for London to transform itself? The strategic thinking may be solid, but they won’t get anywhere fast if the UK partners haven’t got their hearts in it. A cautionary tale for Jones Day Gouldens, perhaps.