Sweet Sixteen: Kirkland & Ellis

Star practices/people

Rev £640m
PEP £1.27m
RPL £457,000

Global 1,399
London 79
New York 303

Kirkland & Ellis is the sole Chicago-headquartered firm to make it into the Sweet Sixteen. Known as a brutally tough private equity machine, its clients include Bain, Apax, CCMP Capital, CVC and TowerBrook Capital.

Kirkland’s string of enviable private equity clients can arguably only be bettered by Simpson Thacher. Even Simpson struggles to match the width of the bench.

Its success in building a US business has, to an extent, been replicated in the UK – a practice that is best described as private equity derivative.

Two years ago the London private equity team was strengthened by the arrival of former Linklaters private equity head Graham White and partner Raymond McKeeve. The loss of a significant business generator such as McKeeve, who left in March to join longstanding client Robert Tchenguiz, is a symbolic blow; Kirkland can clearly attract trophy hires, but can it keep them?

Kirkland’s finance practice is another key component of its transactional abilities, offering sponsor finance and securities/ high-yield capabilities in both the London and New York offices. The arrival of Allen & Overy partner Stephen Gillespie to bolster the London office
in 2006 was a key hire in this area.

Top deals
» CVC Capital Partners in £2.03bn acquisition of Univar

» Bain Capital in £1.76bn sale of SigmaKalon

» Bain Capital Rand’s £1.58bn acquisition of Edcon

Kirkland’s focus on private ­equity may suggest the ­disappearance of leveraged ­buyouts will hit it hard, but in fact Kirkland’s private equity ­practice has traditionally been more mid-market. ­Certainly, ­activity levels during 2007
remained high.

However, Kirkland’s US workout practice – one of the top in the country – should see it ride out the storm stateside, while ­litigation and IP will continue to boost income. The European cross-border restructuring team should also be busy. Its most obvious weakness is London, which has some retention issues.

Globally, Kirkland is a work in progress. The majority of the firm remains US-based, and despite significant investment in London, Germany and France, Kirkland is not truly global yet despite its relatively new Hong Kong office.

On the plus side, Kirkland has been ramping up the growth in New York, the firm’s ­fastest-growing office. Expect Kirkland’s centre of gravity to continue to shift from Chicago to New York.

The verdict
Kirkland & Ellis has proved it has the pulling power when it comes to recruitment, although in London its headline hires came more than two years ago. With the majority of Kirkland still US-based, it is currently ­lagging behind key rival Weil Gotshal & Manges in terms of the global elite.