It’s only taken 31 years, but Linklaters is finally building the New York office it has always wanted. Well, perhaps ‘always wanted’ is a tad optimistic.
Recruiting three litigation partners and an associate (who will become a partner on joining Linklaters) from top-notch New York firm Shearman & Sterling is no doubt a coup for the magic circle firm. However, Linklaters had hoped to merge with the crème de la crème of Manhattan rather than opt for its current organic strategy.
That was certainly the intention of Terence Kyle when he became managing partner of the Americas in 2001. Famously, his ‘to do’ list included merging with such luminaries as Davis Polk & Wardwell, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton. These aren’t exactly the kind of firms you can just scribble down on a random shopping list, and as a result Kyle achieved pretty much nothing in the US. People have spoken of him as an “enigma”, although one suspects this has more to do with Kyle not making his presence felt rather than an interesting personality trait.
It has taken Linklaters managing partner Tony Angel to grab New York by the scruff of the neck and shake it into shape. While Angel has been slightly evasive in the past on what he really wants to achieve in New York, these recent hires have given the managing partner confidence to speak of the firm’s organic strategy with fervour.
Litigation, though? On first reflection, with litigation continuing to be a boom area in the US, plumping for this area could be construed as a quick profitability fix. Bear in mind that Linklaters has been in New York longer than I have been alive and has never made a net profit. But – and this is a point that Linklaters’ management disagrees on – the firm has appeared to be relegating its litigation practice, so recruiting into this area seemed out of sorts with the rest of the firm’s strategy. However, as some of the Shearman hires are bankruptcy litigation partners, this is a good fit for partner Robert Elliot’s practice in London, for example. And no doubt Linklaters’ increasingly successful London banking practice will be glad of the support as it continues to build a reputation in complex finance transactions.
There is far to go before the firm reaches its goal of being a true competitor to the top New York law firms, but at least it has made a proper start. At last.