US hiring spree leads to sibling rivalry

Running a law firm is a lot like parenting – all that positive reinforcement, setting boundaries and telling the little darlings to tidy up their mess. But the trickiest issue is how you make child number one still feel wanted when number two arrives.

Kirkland & Ellis and Weil Gotshal & Manges have both been suffering outbreaks of sibling rivalry. As every corporate lawyer in the world knows, the two US firms this year beefed up their private equity offerings in London. Kirkland recruited Graham White and Ray McKeeve from Linklaters and then followed it up by hiring Stephen Gillespie from Allen & Overy, deftly stealing the limelight from Weil, which poached Marco Compagnoni and Jonathan Wood from Lovells earlier this year.

Within a month the fallout was beginning. As The Lawyer reported last week (8 May), Nigel Dunmore, former head of Kirkland’s UK law group, who arrived from DLA in 2002, resigned for “personal reasons”. And as we reveal today, two Weil corporate partners, Graham Defries and Wayne Rapozo, handed in their notice last week to move to Dechert.

Defries and Rapozo, formerly of Bird & Bird and Skadden respectively, never looked particularly integrated with the rest of Weil’s London corporate practice. Weil has a certain amount of form in this area, of course. When Mike Francies was lured from Clifford Chance by Maurice Allen several years ago, his billings went down so well with New York that the swashbuckling finance team found itself out of favour politically. Most of Allen’s team later found happiness at White & Case, but it was all pretty messy.

Flushed with the success of their new captures, Kirkland and Weil are airily playing down the resignations, saying that the departures are unrelated to the new hires. However, such upheaval illustrates US firms’ headache of building a corporate practice in the City. In the individualistic world of private equity, personal relationships are everything and trophy hires are key to success.

Star recruits inevitably change the dynamic of an organisation, particularly if it’s relatively small. City chat is now all about how well the new teams will gel (with most of the speculation coming from ex-partners). The White-McKeeve-Gillespie combination has got plenty of Celtic fire, while the Weil boys like to bond over a spot of opera.

Parenting high achievers is rewarding, but exhausting. Let’s hope Mum and Dad don’t have to use the naughty step.