Addleshaws is bracing itself for what could be a tough fight for the senior partner job
In a year categorised by uncontested management elections – see Allen & Overy, Berwin Leighton Paisner and Eversheds – news of candidates going head-to-head for the senior partner job at Addleshaw Goddard and Nabarro stood out.
While Nabarro’s senior partner race is pitting corporate partner Graham Stedman against real estate head Ciaran Carvalho, a symbolic choice for a firm often painted as torn between its property foundations and corporate ambitions, Addleshaws’ contest is still the more arresting study.
Unlike at Nabarro, where incumbent senior partner Simon Johnston stepped down midway through his third term, leaving a gap that had to be filled, Addleshaws’ senior partner Monica Burch is under no obligation to step down because of a term limit and, as far as The Lawyer is aware, has not indicated any desire to hand over the reins.
A direct challenge is coming from Simon Kamstra, a Leeds-based commercial disputes and arbitration partner who has been with the firm for 20 years. Kamstra only succeeded Richard Leedham as Addleshaws’ head of litigation in May. However, he has been on Addleshaws’ board since June 2009 and led its arbitration team since 2007. It is understood that he was also invited to lead the firm’s arbitration-focused Singapore office, which opened in April, but declined.
Kamstra put his name forward for the senior partner job last Monday (15 October), two months before candidates were expected to throw their hats into the ring. Managing partner Paul Devitt, who was himself handed a second term in January following an uncontested election, sent a short email to the firm’s partners about Kamstra’s decision.
Sources close to the firm said there is little appetite for a hotly contested election at Addleshaws, adding that board members may have discussed ways of avoiding a head-to-head race at a board meeting on Tuesday.
It is not hard to see why Addleshaws might want to avoid an election fight. To start, it is a distraction at a time when no firm can afford to take its eye off the ball. Senior partner elections are not brief episodes, either. Addleshaws’ hustings are expected to last four months and involve candidates meeting with every partner at the firm.
Compounding matters, Kamstra is the firm’s head of litigation and Addleshaws’ litigation team is coming off the back of some gargantuan mandates, such as Berezovsky and Ablyazov – it needs to regroup and capitalise on its high profile, not navel gaze about management.
The firm’s previous senior partner election, which has been variously described as a “shoot-out” and “destructive”, must also be playing on people’s minds. It was in 2009/10 that Burch, a litigator, stood against fellow litigator Simon Twigden and employment partner Malcolm Pike to replace Paul Lee, who had been in the role for 12 years.
Twigden was riding high as part of the team looking after mega-client Boris Berezovsky and some believed him to be a shoo-in for the job. But sources say that Twigden’s proposals, which involved putting pressure on the firm’s under-performers, were not to many partners’ tastes. Either way, the vote went in favour of Burch. Several months later Twigden left to establish litigation boutique Enyo Law, taking with him a handful of the firm’s top disputes partners and associates.
It was a blow to be sure, and before the election management had even canvassed partners asking them to give their input on whether they thought the firm still needed a senior partner.
“If you get the right person, they can provide an ambassadorial role that generates work and provides a focal point for the partners,” said one source close to the firm, who added that Burch had done a good job during a tough period.
It is not known why Kamstra has decided to stand against Burch. One source suggested it could be to do with lingering concerns over the firm’s profitability, which is on the up but still some way short of what it was during the firm’s purple patch five years ago.
Given how recent the challenge for senior partner is – and that there is still a chance that there will not be an election – it is understandable that few would take a punt on its outcome. For what it is worth, Kamstra is said to be charismatic with a strong constituency in Leeds and Manchester, but is a bit of an unknown quantity in London.
Conversely, Burch is said to have little visibility in the firm’s northern offices, despite receiving a lot of backing there in the previous election. Such lines point towards the long-running narrative of a north-south divide at Addleshaws, though one source close to the firm said issues were rarely that simple.
For now, Addleshaws is keeping quiet on the details. All a spokesperson would say was: “Monica Burch’s current term of office as senior partner will come to an end in 2013. Members of the board have been consulting with partners about that, as part of the normal election process. We intend to make no further comment until the senior partner for the three years commencing 1 May 2013 has been decided.”