Sweet Sixteen: Simpson Thacher & Bartlett

Star practices/people
The foundations of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett’s recent ­success are built on its rock-solid relationships with key Fortune 100 companies plus, of course, private equity giants Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR) and the Blackstone Group.

Being the go-to firm for these titans has enabled the firm to maintain its position as the world’s undisputed number one private equity legal adviser. Simpson Thacher’s relationship with JPMorgan on bank finance has not hurt, either.

Simpson Thacher launched its London office largely in response to KKR and Blackstone ­expanding in Europe. No ­surprises there – Sullivan & Cromwell did the same for ­Goldman Sachs. But Simpson still has minimal UK law ­capabilities. Instead, it chooses to draw on the expertise of firms such as Ashurst and Herbert Smith when necessary.

That said, Simpson Thacher has grown its UK capabilities
in recent years with notable hires such as former Allen & Overy ­acquisition finance ­partners Tony Keal and Euan Gorrie.

In New York Pete Ruegger has been at the forefront of Wall Street dealmaking and corporate star Alan Klein has played a ­significant role in ­developing both the London office and the New York corporate team. Corporate partner Bill Curbow is also rated highly, as is real estate head Grey Ressa and veteran firm chairman Dick Beattie.

As a firm known mainly for its strength in private equity, weathering the storm of the credit crunch could be tough. Simpson Thacher does have a 200-strong litigation team to call on, hedging the practice somewhat, but the lack of big-ticket private equity deals can only be damaging long term.

The firm’s London office is ­relatively undersized, certainly in terms of its local law offering. To cement its place in the Sweet Sixteen, Simpson Thacher needs to invest more in the City’s top ­talent.

There is no doubt Simpson Thacher’s New York ­headquarters are the most ­significant in its global network. Although it has offices in Asia, ­Europe and other parts of the US, these bases are currently ­designed to focus on Blackstone and KKR. With private equity in a trough, the strategic atlases will already be out on the ­boardroom tables in Lexington Avenue.

The verdict
Simpson Thacher’s historic ties with Blackstone and KKR alone make it a standout transatlantic firm. Although its lack of local law capabilities in some ­jurisdictions could be seen as a weakness, it has not held the firm back. In a word, ­Simpson Thacher is class.