Kings of the wild frontier

Ukraine is the new frontier for law firms – as we first revealed last September – and it really wasn’t a surprise that Clifford Chance was going to be at the forefront of the rush to the country.

Clifford Chance managing partner David Childs denied the firm was set for an imminent launch back in September, stating merely that Ukraine was “on my radar”.

But hey presto! How things change. As we report today, the firm is set to open its doors in Kiev with an office focused initially on the real estate market. See story.

The news comes just months after CMS Cameron McKenna led the charge as the first City firm to launch in the former Soviet state. Yesterday the CMS network’s presence in Ukraine was strengthened when CMS Derks Star Busmann opened a Dutch desk in Kiev to work alongside other CMS partner firms.

And heaven forbid Camerons/CMS should allow Clifford Chance to steal its first-mover thunder in the region. No sooner had we posted the story of Clifford Chance’s launch than Camerons responded with its latest update from Kiev. It’s now open for business. Unlike Clifford Chance, where a launch is merely imminent.

Richmond’s role in the Freshfields diaspora
Richmond, Virginia may not be the most glamorous City in the US but aside from tobacco, law has always been one of the biggest drivers of the local economy and the City’s premier law firm Hunton & Williams is its biggest export after Philip Morris.

Hunton has hired more laterals in the US during the last year than any other firm bar Greenberg Traurig and McDermott Will & Emery. But since launching in London in 1999 its UK operations have failed to keep pace. So Huntons is cock-a-hoop at bagging former Freshfields partner Roger Dyer to head the banking practice in its 30-lawyer London office (see story).

Seems that ex-Freshfields partners have a penchant for US firms. The less overt managerial culture is a major attraction. Meanwhile, smaller outposts of US firms get a little bit of establishment kudos from hiring lawyers out of the magic circle – though as Kirkland will tell you, not every magic circle exile stays forever. See story

There’s been so many departures from Freshfields’ partnership over the last year it’s been hard to keep up. But never fear, you can check Monday’s edition of The Lawyer to fully get your head round the full story of the Freshfields’ diaspora.

A&O hoovers up the talent
As Clifford Chance tightens its belt, encouraging lawyers to hobble home after a killer deal rather than wasting precious corporate cash on a cab, Allen & Overy has hit its arch rival hard with the hire of real estate finance partner Arthur Dyson. See story

Now some might think that real estate finance, of all sectors, is an insane field in which to be hiring at the moment, but not A&O.

No sooner has David Morley been elected as senior partner on a platform of hands-in-the-air-optimism and growth in sustainable markets, than the firm is putting its money where its mouth is and hiring during a downturn.

A&O partner Robert Porter and Dyson go back a long way. They were partners together at Cameron McKenna prior to their time together at Clifford Chance. Porter was full of praise for his mate.

“Arthur is a man of such capabilities that he will always have work,” said Porter proudly today.

Well, he should know. And with a man of Dyson’s capabilities minding the fort in London, Porter’s free to swan off to sunny Dubai later this month to launch a real estate finance team. There’s certainly no downturn there.

Shock departure from Kirkland & Ellis

Private equity sure is a rough and tumble world.

The latest news to hit the sector is the imminent departure of Raymond McKeeve from the London office of Kirkland & Ellis, revealed by The Lawyer today.

McKeeve was one half of the Linklaters star duo – the other being Graham White – which defected to Kirkland in 2006.

His exit, which is understood to be happening once his current deals have been completed, is particularly surprising given his success in transferring his clients from Linklaters to Kirkland.

The bush telegraph on this story has been going for a week or so, but it was only today that Kirkland finally ‘fessed up to The Lawyer’s questions.

Private equity is a notoriously personal industry full of very big characters. So who will take over McKeeve’s relationships with the likes of Robert Tchenguiz?

You can bet there’ll be plenty of other City partners polishing off their business cards. With the current lull in the market, what better time to do a spot of business development?

Watson Burton held to account

Converting to LLP is so totally hot right now but submitting all those fiddly accounts to Companies House sure is a drag. Last year, just about every firm was late with its filings but this year most have got their act together.

Not Watson Burton LLP, whose accounts are over a year late with the registrar of companies, getting the firm uncomfortably close to being struck off the companies’ register.

The North East firm blames the miners. Well, kind of. It actually blames the government for its accounting issues. Don’t we all? (see story)

It appears that Watson Burton didn’t want its publicly available accounts to look as terrible as they thought they might turn out.

In 2007 the profits for the handful of equity partners at the firm plummeted by almost half a million pounds after the goldmine of the miners’ compensation scheme was exhausted. Then the government tried to claw back some of the fees the firm charged the miners. The firm was unwilling to estimate how much cash it would have to repay the government. It feared it could be millions.

The obvious move: hold off on calculating the accounts until it all blows over.

It is understood that Companies House generally tries to look sympathetically at cases where there are legitimate reasons for a delay in the submission of accounts. Legitimate excuses include a director or CFO keeling over in front of the registrar with a heart attack. It’s a far cry from ‘the dog ate my homework’.