Shearmans takes on Bright for M&A push

US firm gears up for assault on European M&A as CC competition head quits; Brussels office to open in July

Clifford Chance‘s head of competition Chris Bright is leaving to join the London office of New York firm Shearman & Sterling.

Bright is believed to be the first top-tier English competition partner to join a US firm in London. His arrival marks the beginning of an aggressive M&A and competition law expansion for Shearmans.

In a drive to build its European corporate practice, the firm also plans to open a Brussels office in July, which will be headed by German competition partner Hans Jürgen Meyer-Lindemann.

Clifford Chance hired Bright as head of its competition practice only two years ago. He joined from Linklaters & Alliance, where he had been a partner since 1992.

Clients including General Healthcare Group, Severn Trent and Wessex Water followed Bright to Clifford Chance, but it is too early to say whether he will take them to Shearmans.

Head of Shearmans’ English law practice Kenneth MacRitchie says the appointment shows the firm’s commitment to European M&A.

He says: “Shearmans is clearly an M&A powerhouse in the US, and it’s only a matter of time before we’re the same in London. Competition advisers are very, very important for that.

“We’re looking to hire a team of five or six M&A partners here in London. At the moment we have two US-qualified and one UK-qualified. A lot of potential partners say to us that they’re interested, but what would they do regarding competition? We definitely see this as a demonstration that we’re going to get to where we want.”

Shearmans has five M&A partners in France and 15 in Germany. It is acting on some of Europe’s largest M&A deals at the moment, including representing Allianz on its acquisiton of Dresdner Bank and, along with Slaughters, E.on on its purchase of Powergen. In France it is acting for Société Générale on its acquisition of TCW Group, and last year it represented France Telecom when it purchased Orange.

In the latest figures released by Thomson Financial, Shearmans comes fifth for deals completed with a European target, having handled seven in the first quarter of the year (see page 5).

But until now, the London M&A practice has kept a relatively low profile. It boasts only one English-qualified partner, Adrian Knight, who joined in 1999 from Ashurst Morris Crisp, and has been far more focused on its finance practice.

Bright says: “From my point of view, this is a great opportunity both to be part of the growth and establishment of a major M&A practice in London, and also to build with Hans Jürgen Meyer-Lindemann in Germany a top European competition practice.

“The fact that there’s a very strong M&A practice in New York, and in Germany too, means that there’s a fair weight behind the project. We really want to take the M&A practice that’s there forwards – and take on the big five on the M&A side.”

At Clifford Chance he handled the competition aspects for the Wessex Water/South West Water.

He also boasts a strong regulatory practice, which ties in with Shearmans’ project finance capability in London, as the two firms share client Edison Mission Energy.

Clifford Chance global head of corporate David Childs says that the firm still has 20 European competition partners. He adds that the new head of the practice will be Brussels-based Simon Baxter, with Alex Nourry in London running the City team.