NY to the rescue as Shearman Europe flounders

NY to the rescue as Shearman Europe floundersShearman & Sterling has lost ­another partner in Germany, leaving its Munich office with just one partner,” TheLawyer.com reported on 16 October. But within hours the story had moved on, with Shearman announcing that New York rainmaker Creighton Condon was being flown in as the new managing partner for Europe.

“London had been talking about the need for more US resource for some time,” says a Shearman insider. “But I don’t think anyone expected that we’d get someone as senior as Creighton. He’s a very heavy-hitting guy – he’s basically one of the top two or three people in the New York M&A team.”

In recent months it has often seemed as though the only stories to emerge from Shearman’s European offices have ­concerned ;departures ;(and ;one ­particularly embarrassing claim of ­sexual harassment, of course).

Last week’s exit of Thomas Fox to ­Latham & Watkins came just a month after tax partner Gottfried Breuninger and M&A partner Astrid Krüger left for Allen & Overy (A&O). The pair joined former global corporate head Rolf ­Koerfer, who departed for A&O in ­January, while the 30-strong Mannheim office set itself up as an independent firm in April.

But can Condon’s presence in Europe stop his German partners from leaving?
“From being on various committees, such as the compensation committee and the strategy committee, I know nearly all the European partners,” says Condon. “It will be easier for me to understand all the issues and get ­everyone working together better.”

The German practice has long been the engine that has driven Shearman’s European corporate machine. Shearman was the most serious challenger to the near-duopoly of German corporate kings Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Hengeler Mueller.

Koerfer and Georg Thoma built a ­formidable team advising the corporates of Düsseldorf, Germany’s industrial heartland. Thoma remains at Shearman and is critical to the European practice. He was the last holder of the European managing partner role and remains co-managing partner of Germany.

“Georg Thoma is a huge generator of work and an amazing lawyer, but he doesn’t always give younger partners the chance to develop and has clashed with senior people – hence some of the ­departures,” says a former partner.

Condon, though, is hugely enthusiastic about the German operation and the next generation of partners who have come through the ranks. He also points out that Harald Selzner was recently ­promoted to co-managing partner of Germany and is global co-head of M&A.

“We really are at our core group in Germany,” Condon enthuses. “[Closing] Mannheim was a favourable thing for the German operation. We’ve lost a ­couple of others who we wouldn’t have wanted to lose, but we’re extremely well led by Georg and we have another group of lawyers – the next generation. They’re cohesive and highly energised about where they are in the market. I think we’re well placed in Germany.”

A major part of Condon’s role will be knitting the German team with the rest of the firm – and it is not just Germany that has suffered departures. In London corporate partner Peter King, who had been a key bridge between London and Düsseldorf, quit for Weil Gotshal & Manges in the summer.

A former partner says of Condon’s arrival: “Someone in New York obviously thought that they need to defend what was a good position but looks in danger of slipping. It’s a very significant move.”

Another level of intrigue has been added by recent gossip surrounding merger talks between Shearman and A&O. Condon’s move mirrors A&O’s transfer of senior partner David Morley to the US. And given the traffic of lawyers between the two firms, Condon is in an ideal place to patch up old wounds or provide reassurance to those feeling unsettled.