The Talent

May 15, 2009 10:16 AM

Report: Two Skadden M&A Partners Leaving for Kirkland

Posted by Ed Shanahan

Updated on 5/15/09 at 1:20 p.m. with comments in the sixth and seventh paragraphs below and information from Skadden's Web site.

The New York Times reported early Friday that two corporate partners at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom--David Fox and Daniel Wolf --are leaving the firm for Kirkland & Ellis.

Fox, 51, an M&A lawyer and reportedly one of the firm's most highly compensated partners, joined the firm more than 20 years ago. Wolf, also an M&A partner, is one of the youngest lawyers to have made partner at Skadden--he was promoted six years ago at the age of 30. Both lawyers have worked together on several matters in recent years, including BHP Billiton’s $150 billion bid for Rio Tinto.

The two are part of a roughly 285-lawyer department at the firm; of that, 131 are M&A partners, according to Skadden's Web site.

According to the Times report, the two lawyers are largely drawn by an opportunity to build up Kirkland's M&A practice into a top-tier group, though compensation is likely a factor, too. In a statement released Friday morning by Kirkland, Fox says, "Daniel and I are energized by this unique opportunity to grow our practices and contribute to the further development of Kirkland’s outstanding corporate group....While we will always fondly remember our time at Skadden, we are very excited by the prospect of  collaborating with the many talented lawyers at Kirkland to build on the firm’s unmatched platform and take its M&A practice to the next level."

Skadden came out on top again in this year's Am Law 100 ranking of the top-grossing law firms, published in the May issue of The American Lawyer. Gross revenue at the firm was $2.2 billion, but its equity partner profits, at $2.07 million, are lower than PPP of $2.47 million at Kirkland (among the top-ten firms in PPP). [Note: Skadden is a one-tier partnership with 440 equity partners among the firm's 1440 lawyers; Kirkland & Ellis has a two-tier partnership, with 235 equity partners among its 1333 lawyers.]

While the Times report describes the defections as one that will send "shockwaves through the Wall Street legal world, the reaction of a couple of M&A lawyers at top-ranked firms is measured. "This seems like a logical move for K&E but in reality it's not at all a dramatic move within the M&A world, and while both are good and respected lawyers, neither are viewed as one of the stars of the M&A bar," says one M&A partner from a top-ranked New York firm who requested anonymity to speak frankly.

Another partner at a separate leading New York firm says, "My understanding is that [Fox's] contribution is quite significant in terms of revenue. I don't mean to suggest that it's material to their bottom line. Kirkland has a great IP group, a great bankruptcy group, and they are doing relatively well. They have a comp system that's different than Skadden. You can't read too much into any one event, but there may be an interest in the legal profession towards less lockstep."

Skadden has seen a handful of other partners leave the firm in recent months. In March, Andrew Sandler and Benjamin Klubes departed to form their own firm, BuckleySandler. And in December, Skadden restructuring practice cohead Timothy Pohl announced his departure to join Lazard.

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