O’Melveny in disarray as UK dream goes sour

O’Melveny & Myers’ London office is in turmoil after underinvestment by the firm’s Los Angeles (LA) hub prompted the exit of a fifth of its partners and a generation of senior associates.

Following the departure of finance partner Stuart Hills to Weil Gotshal & Manges last week, office co-head Chris Ashworth is set to quit for Lovells, as first revealed on www.thelawyer. com (25 April).

Ashworth is in advanced talks with the UK firm and is expected to fill the post left vacant by Lovells corporate finance head Hugh Nineham, who left the firm for McDermott Will & Emery earlier this year.

Sources close to O’Melveny said growth in the London office has been stifled because its US headquarters has failed to recognise that significant investment is required to build a credible presence in the City.

One source said: “The US still needs to make an investment in London – for the past year it hasn’t realised what it needs to do.”

The situation has led to a number of senior associates leaving the firm, disgruntled with the lack of partnership prospects. In the latest promotion round only corporate lawyer Justin Stock was made up, despite his corporate colleague Matt Rees being widely recognised as partnership material. Rees has since joined Simmons & Simmons as a partner.

An O’Melveny source said it had been impossible to get two promotions in the same practice area past the management given the lack of M&A work being generated.

Work generation is a major concern in the office, with Paul Loynes, who was made up with Solomon Wifa in 2006, currently on long-term secondment to the firm’s New York office due to a lack of work in London.

The source said Loynes is working out of the US to be close to private equity client Apollo, but admitted that without Apollo on the books there would be little for Loynes to do in London.

Counsel Rufus Gandhi is working out of LA, while counsel Michael Crosby, who joined the finance partnership at Addleshaw Goddard in January, was also based in LA prior to leaving.

Lovells partners finish voting ;on ;Ashworth’s appointment tomorrow (29 April). This leaves just seven partners in O’Melveny’s London office.