Profile: Charlie Geffen, Ashurst senior partner

Ashurst’s senior partner elect, Charlie Geffen, said that the future of Ashurst’s business lies overseas, pledging a major expansion in Asia.

Profile: Charlie Geffen, <a class=Ashurstsenior partner” />Ashurst’s new senior partner elect, Charlie Geffen, said today that the future of Ashurst’s business lies overseas, pledging a major expansion in Asia.

“The future is very much focused on strong development of the business we’ve got in London, in Europe and as we expand that into Asia and the Middle East,” he commented.

“Presently 30 per cent of core Ashurst business is emanating from outside of London, and we propose to repeat that core Ashurst model out of Asia.”

Geffen predicted that traditional transactional practice groups will likely suffer in the coming months, but said that this is just part of the natural cycle.

“A year ago every bit of law firms was busy,” he said, “now some bits of law firms are much busier than other bits… Clearly the market is going through a pretty challenging period.”

Geffen denied that the economic downturn would be particularly problematic for Ashurst despite the firm’s heavy transactional focus.

“Personally I think that at times like this you can retool a bit,” he said. “But there are an awful lot of lawyers who are very able transactional type lawyers and there’s an awful lot of work for them to do in other areas.” Geffen cited restructuring work, in particular, as being able to keep a lot of other departments busy.

Geffen was optimistic about the future, saying: “If you take the medium term view, we have a strong, distinctive position in the marketplace. Our stock has risen highly in the last few years and we have done very well in the lateral market.”

In many ways, Geffen is a typical Ashurst partner. He has spent his whole career at the firm and is a champion of Ashurst’s strengths. He joined the firm as a trainee in 1982 and rose to partnership by 1991.

One of the deals that brought him to prominence, and one that he remembers particularly well, was the takeover of venture capital groups Cinven and CVC Capital Markets of William Hill, which completed within 48 hours, only one day before William Hill was set to float (The Lawyer 3 January 1999). Geffen remembers it as “dramatic”.

Soon after making partner, Geffen found himself leading the firm’s private equity practice, and has been instrumental in linking the Ashurst brand to top-tier private equity work.

He joined the firm’s management board in 2003. Geffen said that as a result he was never an unknown entity to his fellow partners: “I’ve been on the board for the last few years anyway and been closely involved in the strategic thinking of the firm.”

Geffen will step up to the senior partner role in January 2009. At that time current senior partner Geoffrey Green will take a holiday ahead of launching Ashurst’s expansion in Hong Kong and Asia.

Geffen said that he sees the senior partner position as being mostly a client-facing role and one that “is about helping the firm drive forward its strategic development”.

He said that he is not sure yet how much he will miss the thrill of doing deals but spending time with clients will clearly play well to his strengths, being not far removed from his present responsibilities.

To read Ashurst’s UK 200 Annual Report write-up, click here.