The Lawyer brought a little bit of joy and laughter to many a City partner’s Friday afternoon last week when we told them the news about Justin Spendlove joining Fried Frank. Reaction was also flecked with incredulity; Ashurst’s former managing partner had obviously developed deeper ties with the US firm than anyone had thought.
It’s happened before, when former Theodore Goddard (TG) managing partner Peter Cooke left for Salans. Cooke was clearly frustrated at TG’s inability to do the merger with Salans, liked what he saw on the other side of the table and found a refuge.
Ditto Spendlove, although there’s little doubt that there was tension between him and certain other members of the management. (Don’t believe us? Well, as one Ashurst partner said with an audible curl of the lip: “Where else could Justin have gone?”) Ousted managing partners tend not to stick around, and the offer of a job and a place on Fried Frank’s board must have been irresistible.
Quite how he is going to fare in Fried Frank’s robust billing culture is a mystery. Ashurst is a veritable Athens compared with Fried Frank’s Sparta, and Spendlove hasn’t fee-earned for more than four years. Indeed, few former managing partners take well to the prospect of fee-earning again; all-nighters tend to lose their allure with time.
A notable exception is Clifford Chance’s Michael Bray, currently beavering away on Parmalat for Citigroup, but most former law firm managers tend to head for the twilight of consultancy. It would have been tough for Spendlove to go back into a finance department which he used to head and which has changed so dramatically over the past few years.
Spendlove’s new position at the US firm appears to be – ahem – ‘strategic’. After all, according to Fried Frank’s statement on Friday, he was “responsible for establishing his former firm’s strategic positioning”. That might come as a mild surprise to some of Ashurst’s more vocal partners. If anything, Ashurst’s expansion on the Continent has been a mixture of happenstance and opportunism.
You can’t blame Fried Frank for trying to milk it a bit. First of all it gets knocked back by the snooty Brits on the merger, and then a year later it’s snubbed for US structured finance referrals in favour of McKee Nelson.
And perhaps Spendlove will use all that management experience at Ashurst to find Fried Frank another merger partner. Or – hey! – do a rebranding.