Analysis: Latham PE team bolstered in another loss for Kirkland
Two seasoned partners move from the US’s highest-grossing firm to its biggest revenue rival.
Last week we reported on the spate of departures from Kirkland & Ellis so far this year. This spate continued yesterday with the move of two private equity partners, Neal Reenan and Ian Bushner, to Latham & Watkins. They will be based in the firm’s Boston and Chicago offices respectively. Reenan had been at Kirkland for 17 years, Bushner for six.
Kirkland is currently the highest-grossing firm in the US, with 2018 revenues almost 11% higher than those of Latham, its closest competitor. Latham has continued to perform strongly: its 2019 revenue was $3.76 billion. Kirkland has not yet revealed its 2019 figures, but we expect the firm’s 2019 revenue to have surpassed $4.1 billion. Private equity work is a core area for both Kirkland and Latham, which came first and second respectively in Bloomberg’s rankings of firms for M&A and private equity deal volume last year.
Reenan and Bushner’s move comes a week after Abtin Jalali and Christopher Harding left Kirkland & Ellis, where they’d both spent 6-7 years, to join Gibson Dunn & Crutcher in San Francisco, making a total of four private equity partners leaving the Chicago giant in seven days. Nonetheless, Kirkland has seen periods of partner losses before: four years ago, its London office lost a six-partner private equity team to Sidley Austin, and still managed to drive non-US growth to 10%.
Given the size of the firm in the US, it can afford to bleed a little. Its website lists 306 private equity partners in the US, and though many of these are not fully dedicated to private equity transactions, it wouldn’t be contentious to claim that Kirkland still has the largest private equity team of any US firm. Indeed, around two years ago Kirkland nabbed a former co-chair of Latham’s private equity practice, Jennifer Perkins.
Nonetheless, the move is interesting in the context of the two great revenue rivals. We expect more partner departures from Kirkland in the coming weeks – but we also expect the firm to retain its position as the highest-grossing law firm in America not only this year but next year too.
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