Firms put out the feelers for specialists they can bank on

Catrin Griffiths looks at the options for firms wanting to bolster their borrower finance practices

Kirkland & Ellis London partner Jim Learner is perfectly frank about what his firm needs to do next, now that Linklaters partners Graham White and Raymond McKeeve have signed up to join.

“We recognise the fact that we need to increase our finance group,” he says. “We would certainly be fooling everyone if we said we weren’t.”

Kirkland is not alone. When Weil Gotshal & Manges hired Marco Compagnoni and Jonathan Wood from Lovells in January, it created a substantial private equity team in London. What both firms need – and fast – is support on the banking side. As The Lawyerhas reported earlier this year, sponsors are driving the finance documentation and are demanding that their law firms provide a high-level borrower finance practice.

Kirkland already has one finance partner in John Markland (formerly of Clifford Chance via Weil Gotshal) and is due to make up another to partnership later this year. However, one, or even two, banking partners are not going to be enough for a firm with aggressive plans in the private equity market.

Simpson Thacher & Bartlett has no UK corporate ability, but does boast no fewer than three finance lawyers looking after the English banking law side of deals for Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co (KKR) and Blackstone, for example. Kirkland is still catching up on its English finance capability since Bronwen Jones left in 2003 for Macfarlanes.

Kirkland will not comment on the packages offered to UK laterals, although the consensus within the City is that the White and McKeeve team landed a £5m package. Kirkland can certainly afford to shell out that sort of money, especially since White and McKeeve, unlike most big-name lateral hires, can be guaranteed to bring business with them. But even though the money may be good, it takes a long time to persuade City banking lawyers to be captive borrower lawyers.

Neither are there many specialist borrower lawyers around; most sponsors prefer to instruct lawyers who have had several years of experience acting on the other side and who know the ropes. Tony Keal was a banking lawyer for years before he began to specialise in sponsor work. His Simpson Thacher colleagues Euan Gorrie and Stephen Short had also done their time acting for lenders, at Allen & Overy (A&O) and Ashurst respectively.

The Lawyer thought it would save Weil Gotshal and Kirkland thousands in headhunter fees and present a non-exhaustive list of potential candidates, as nominated by a cross-section of bankers, private equity dealmakers and corporate and banking lawyers.

The most senior names have been excised; for example, Clifford Chance partner Mark Stewart is one of the City’s borrower king. He was once nearly tempted by Simpson Thacher many years ago, but is highly unlikely to leave Clifford Chance now that he has become London head of banking.

Michael Barron, Dickson Minto
Barron has handled the debt finance work for BC partners for years and is one of the few borrower specialists in the market.

Michael Bates, Clifford Chance
Famously one of the few young partners to go straight into equity, Bates – still only halfway up the lockstep – is revered internally for his mix of technical and commercial abilities. Close to Citibank and HSBC, he has also worked for Macquarie. A Clifford Chance loyalist and banking all-rounder, and close to Mark Stewart and Alan Inglis. Currently, however, in the North Pole.

Ian Borman, Allen & Overy
Worked closely with Tony Keal on the KKR relationship before Keal moved to Simpson Thacher. He is described as bright and adaptable.

Helen Burton, Ashurst
One of the brightest acquisition finance partners in the market, Burton has been described as a “tough cookie”, with a CV nicely balanced between banks and sponsors. However, she is unlikely to return to a US firm, having spent several years at Weil Gotshal in the late 1990s. She trained at A&O and, at Ashurst, has developed an excellent relationship with Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), which she would be loath to leave behind.

Charlie Cochrane, Clifford Chance
Almost entirely bank-facing, the perky Cochrane is currently being groomed as the heir to the Barclays relationship. He has also worked extensively with Goldman Sachs.

Sanjeev Dhuna, Allen & Overy
Dual-qualified, Dhuna is rated as an energetic marketer. Has a leveraged CV but has recently done more general finance work with a track record in take privates in the real estate sector.

Emma Folds, Clifford Chance
A senior assistant who has been James Johnson’s right-hand woman for years and who has impressed many. Described by a partner at a rival firm as “the best young Clifford Chance person I’ve seen for a long time”. Tipped for imminent partnership.

Brian Gray, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
Trained at Denton Wilde Sapte, Gray is described with some respect as “difficult and very bright”. The most prominent of Freshfields’ new generation of banking lawyers and splits his time between borrowers and lenders.

Gary Hamp, Lovells
The new hope of the Lovells banking team. After spells at Clifford Chance and Simpson Thacher, got partnership at Lovells last year. Described as practical and thoughtful.

Robin Harvey, Allen & Overy
A mid-level banking partner targeted by virtually every firm in the City, Harvey came to A&O as part of the Norton Rose quartet. Exceptionally able, he has serious borrower credentials and is PAI’s banking lawyer of choice.

Mark Norris, Simmons & Simmons
Norris trained at Clifford Chance and has recently come to prominence at a Simmons finance group that has taken advantage of conflicts to win some exceptional mandates in the past year, most notably on the £17.7bn Telefonica bid.

Antonia Rawlinson, White & Case
The City rumour mill tediously tends to link other White & Case partners with Kirkland, but Rawlinson deserves more recognition as a strong player with a good track record in leveraged deals and restructurings, particularly for Deutsche Bank.

Bernard Sharp, Baker & McKenzie
Increasingly well-known in the City, Sharp is regarded as no pushover in an ambitious finance group that is growing its market share.

Nick Syson, Linklaters
An exceptionally popular banking partner described by another magic circle lawyer as “a nice sensible bloke; does a good job”. Equally, equity houses love Syson acting for their banks, describing him variously as “helpful”, “commercial” and “user-friendly”. He is, however, highly unlikely to follow his former colleagues White and McKeeve to Kirkland.