Sullivan pins hopes on raising young blood to top post

There’s succession planning and there’s succession planning. Sullivan & Cromwell‘s appointment of real estate star Joe Shenker as chairman Rodgin Cohen’s successor is both canny and strange, but also further recognition of the qualities of the firm’s youngest-ever partner.

It’s canny because Shenker is in the unusual position of having four years to prepare for the top job; he doesn’t take up the position until 2010. But there’s another point about Shenker’s appointment. Sullivan is known for its flat management structure, with just the eight-partner committee and Cohen. There’s a value in flatness, but there’s also a strain, and it appears that Cohen could use an extra pair of hands at the top.

Shenker, already in charge of the firm’s finance and administration, is planning on being an active deputy, with roles in strategic planning and client development. But his increased visibility at the top table can only enhance Sullivan’s business development. Having Sullivan’s next presiding partner show up at a pitch is quite a proposition.

Hedge funds put corporate partners on tenterhooks

The inexorable rise of hedge funds and the corresponding increase in shareholder activism is causing some ruffled brows on Wall Street. One partner admits his firm is starting to treat hedge funds and private equity houses as if they were financial institutions. Presumably that means more invites to the Hamptons. Another was considering targeting hedge funds on investor activist work, the worry being that to do so could conflict with the firm’s corporate client base.

Several New York corporate heavyweights are involved in high-profile ‘proxy fights’. These are the campaigns, increasingly led by activist hedge funds, to solicit shareholders in a bid for governance changes, seats on the board or control of the company.

US corporate lawyers are anticipating a big uptick in shareholder-led proxy contests when the Securities and Exchange Commission kicks off the proxy season around April. They will be scratching their heads over whether to position themselves as advisers to the ogre that could tear a client (or, presumably, former client) apart.

Still, that’s business. As one partner put it: “In a sense, shareholder activism is just good old democracy at work. Why shouldn’t a shareholder have a say?”

Latham IP man committed to dustbin of history

The reaction of one Latham & Watkins partner when asked about the exit of partner Matthew Lehr seemed to say a lot about a firm where 50 per cent of its lawyers are lateral hires. “I have no idea who he is,” claimed the partner.

For your information, sir, he’s an IP litigator who just joined Davis Polk & Wardwell from your Silicon Valley office, where he was co-chair of the litigation department. You may claim not to know him, but The Lawyer suspects a little white lie. Davis Polk is pinning some serious hopes on Lehr’s ability to kickstart a patent litigation practice not just in his West Coast homeland, but also in the virgin territory (for the firm in IP at least) of New York.

Davis Polk is looking to bulk up its IP litigation practice on the East Coast and will no doubt be entering the recruitment market in a significant way. Let’s hope that when it does get a team, it remembers who they are.

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