There is a real SJ Berwin clan over at Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson’s London office, with more than two-thirds of its 2015 recruits hailing from the legacy firm. But there’s also a strong Kirkland & Ellis contingent, with many partners having worked for both firms at some point in their careers.
Like Fried Frank London head Graham White, private equity lawyer Dan Oates was never a member of SJ Berwin but he did have a seven-year career at Kirkland & Ellis in which time he moved up the ranks from associate to partner. However, in 2014 Oates began to look elsewhere and moved over to the partnership of O’Melveny & Myers to help broaden its European offering.
“O’Melveny was an interesting offer and the firm already worked with a number of my clients, so the move made sense,” Oates says. “It was a good opportunity and I felt it was time to go.”
Oates’ move came after several conversations with Kirkland mentor White about doing something new. But it was not until Oates was six months into his role at O’Melveny that White brought up the subject of Fried Frank and revealed he was moving over to lead the London team.
“I was reticent about leaving O’Melveny so soon but Graham [White] piqued my interest,” recollects Oates. “There aren’t many US firms in London building their private equity teams from the ground up and to have that opportunity is unique.”
After a year at O’Melveny, Oates took up White’s offer, joining him as Fried Frank’s second London-based private equity partner at the start of 2015. Since then they have been joined by Kirkland colleagues Mark Mifsud, Alexandra Conroy and Kate Downey, all SJ Berwin alumni.
“We’re focusing on London and aiming to mirror what we have in New York so it becomes a mini-version of that office,” says Oates. “We have seven partners in the core private equity team but we want to hire more people and grow our client relationships.”
Fried Frank’s private equity team acts consistently for East Coast sponsors such as Permira, CVC and New Mountain Capital, with Oates’ main client Francisco Partners also falling into this bracket. Over the years Oates has taken Francisco from Kirkland to O’Melveny and now to Fried Frank, with the lawyer describing private equity as “more personal” and “portable” than pure corporate, meaning a client is “yours and not the firm’s in general”.
Since 2013 Oates has closed around a dozen deals for the private equity house, including its sale of Sumo Digital to North Edge Capital and the acquisition of IBM Sterling Transportation Management from IBM Systems.
“Having a presence in London helps us do these deals,” says Oates. “Sponsors have been successful in raising money in the past 24 months and some clients are surprised at how much sponsors are willing to pay for an asset. It’s a competitive market and there are lots of companies with dry powder. It’s a good time to sell, basically.”
Other key deals on which Oates has acted at Fried Frank include New Look Retail Group’s sale to Brait from funds advised by Apax Partners and Permira, and Baxalta’s agreement to merge with Shire at the end of last year. He also represented KKR at the end of 2015 as it looked to purchase a minority interest in London-based asset manager Marshall Wace.
A new direction in investment
“The KKR deal was a strategic investment in, and partnership with, Marshall Wace,” recalls Oates. “I’m hesitant to call it a trend but it is something sponsors are looking at. Marshall Wace is a profitable fund but it’s good to have the KKR name attached – it broadens the appeal. It’s a way hedge fund founders can monetise their position.”
With an array of corporate and private equity clients it has been important for Fried Frank to add to its practices and build new ones. In 2015 the firm made partner hires to its finance and asset management groups, the most recent joiner being Mayer Brown restructuring co-head Ashley Katz, neither a Kirkland nor an SJ Berwin alumnus.
“We can do everything from fund formation to restructuring but we’re looking to build our corporate real estate and high-yield teams,” says Oates. “We’re also moving to a new office with space for around 50 more lawyers, so we’re really focused on hiring.”
Having seen Fried Frank grow significantly within a year of joining, Oates is in prime position to see the firm expand even further in 2016.
Dan Oates, partner, Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson
Having qualified as a lawyer in 2004, Dan Oates’ rise in the legal world has been meteoric. Making the move from Slaughter and May, where he trained, to US private equity powerhouse Kirkland & Ellis in 2006, Oates had only four years to wait before making partner. And he has not looked back since. As the European contact for US-headquartered private equity house Francisco Partners, Oates has acted on numerous deals for the client, solidifying the relationship this year with a spell spent in-house.
The Lawyer Hot 100 2013