Kirkland raiding Freshfields’ stars ushers in new era for private equity team

Kirkland & Ellis’s hire of two rising stars from Freshfields last week marks a changing of the guard in the US law firm’s London private equity team.

Keir MacLennan and Vincent Bergin’s hires from Freshfields were announced by the firm on 11 October, in Kirkland’s latest raid on the Magic Circle law firm’s private equity ranks. The pair join Kirkland as full share partners at the bottom of the firm’s equity ladder, which starts north of $2m according to two people familiar with the matter.

The hire of the Freshfields pair follows Kirkland’s poaching of Clifford Chance private equity M&A up-and-comer Gregory Scott in May as a partner, marking the first time Kirkland had managed to make a major hire from Clifford Chance’s London private equity team.

READ Freshfields loses two private equity partners as Kirkland swoops again

Scott has since been followed to Kirkland by three Clifford Chance private equity associates, who joined the firm in London last month, according to their LinkedIn profiles.

The hires mark the formation of a new generation of private equity partners at the US firm which has continued its London growth despite scepticism from rivals that it can maintain its pace.

“A few years ago there were a bunch of people particularly in the Magic Circle community that believed the Kirkland/Latham phenomenon was a bubble. It is pretty clear that is now not the case,” a Kirkland insider said.

The new partner hires coincide with the impending exit of longtime Bain Capital and Apax Partners relationship partner Rory Mullarkey, who is set to step down from Kirkland shortly, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Longstanding Kirkland M&A partner Mullarkey is expected to take a job elsewhere within the private equity industry when he steps down from the firm, according to people familiar with his thinking.

Recent deals for Mullarkey include advising Bain last month on the acquisition of aero engine manufacturer ITP Aero from Rolls-Royce for €1.7bn.

Insiders push back against any suggestion of a partnership restructuring, saying that the firm remains in growth mode amid a booming private equity M&A market.

“It’s not one out, one in; it is pure growth and the sky’s the limit at Kirkland,” one insider said.

Kirkland was contacted for comment.

Kirkland posted revenue of $4.8bn and profit per equity partner of nearly $6.2m in 2020, according to industry publication The American Lawyer.

The firm has grown rapidly in recent years thanks to its focus on the private equity sector. It has used its financial muscle to expand in London with a series of hires from the Magic Circle firms, with Linklaters and Freshfields targeted particularly heavily.

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Kirkland’s move for MacLennan and Bergin was rapid, with just a week between the formal approach and the move being agreed, according to one person familiar with the matter

However, the hires had been long mooted with conversations between the pair and Kirkland dating back around two years, the person said.

“A lot of thought had gone into it. Execution is different, but the sentiment was there for a while,” another person familiar with the matter said.

Bergin ,who made partner in 2020, and MacLennan, who made partner in 2019, were rising stars in Freshfields’ London private equity team.

Their hire by Kirkland follows the arrival of senior Freshfields private equity partners David Higgins and Adrian Maguire at the US firm in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

Maguire was close to Higgins at Freshfields and followed him to Kirkland, and Bergin was likewise close to Maguire when they were both at Freshfields, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Maguire and Bergin also both count private equity firm Advent International as a key client, with Maguire’s recent deals for Advent including advising Advent-backed aerospace company Cobham on its £2.57bn acquisition of defence company Ultra Electronics in August, and acting for Advent on its acquisition of the UK arm of parcel delivery firm Hermes in a €1bn deal in 2020.

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Bergin, meanwhile advised Advent on its 2019 acquisition of drugmaker Alvogen’s Central and Eastern European business and spent 15 months on secondment with the buyout firm between 2016 and 2017.

However, Kirkland partners say the motivation for the latest Freshfields hires was to add talent and extra resources to the busy London M&A team, rather than making a play for any particular client.

Freshfields said in an 11 October statement that its “business continues to grow at pace” and the team “remain well placed to continue providing our clients with the best service, led by a strong group of private equity partners and a talented pipeline of future partners”.

Kirkland had previously hired heavily from Linklaters for its private equity team, adding M&A partners Matthew Elliott and Roger Johnson in 2015 and Stuart Boyd and David Holdsworth in 2016.

Kirkland also made up four new private equity M&A partners in London in its latest promotions round this month, adding Henry Birch, Nick-Raj Birdi, James Hunn, and Cillian Moynihan to its London partner ranks.

Kirkland’s hire of Clifford Chance’s Scott in May marked Kirkland’s first successful raid on that firm’s private equity ranks in London. Scott resigned to join Kirkland as a partner just days after he was announced internally as a partner at Clifford Chance, something he notes on his LinkedIn profile, describing himself as a “partner elect” at the Magic Circle firm before his move.

READ Freshfields introduces paid leave for pregnancy loss

Clifford Chance has had some success hiring from Kirkland in Europe, adding Kirkland Munich private equity partners Volkmar Bruckner and Mark Aschenbrenner in May, plus three further associates.

Kirkland announced on 11 October that it would leave its London office in the Gherkin to take space at 40 Leadenhall Street, a new building under construction in the City.

Kirkland will hope that its new coming generation of private equity M&A partners can continue the growth that has seen the firm jump to a headcount of 550 in London since its launch in the City in 1994.

To contact the author of this story with feedback or news, email James Booth

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