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American firms in London can’t grow fast enough. Just ask Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. After its local managing partner, Ian Johnson, defected to the U.K.’s DLA law firm in March, competitors gossiped that Orrick was a sinking ship — and that some of Johnson’s former Orrick colleagues might follow him. Johnson’s group would be a “natural” fit for DLA, says the head of the firm’s commercial and projects group, Mark Swindell. DLA hopes to bring on about four more project finance partners in the next six months (currently there are two project finance and three structured finance partners at Orrick’s 16-lawyer London office). But he’s quick to point out that DLA isn’t looking “necessarily at Orrick,” and there’s no offer currently on the table. Still, Johnson, who specializes in energy projects, says that one reason he left Orrick was because he wanted a full-service firm — and he’s not the first Orrick partner to feel understaffed. Last November partner M. Tamara Box left for Ernst & Young’s law firm, Tite & Lewis, citing frustration with Orrick’s lack of resources. The San Francisco-based firm’s London office, which Johnson helped start in 1998 with London partner Michael Voldstad and three associates, has only two departments: structured and project finance. Orrick has made no bones about wanting a larger London presence; last year the firm came close to merging with the U.K.’s Bird & Bird. But in March 2000 those talks fell through after the two firms disagreed about how much to invest in the combined firm. Orrick didn’t want to let fast growth dampen profitability. Now, says the firm’s chairman, Ralph Baxter Jr., Orrick is building its corporate, technology, and M&A capability. “We’re actively looking for equity capital markets people in London,” he says, and will add tax specialists “as soon as we can.” But Orrick won’t be jumping into a big merger just to grow quickly. Baxter says that he wants the firm to be “as significant in London as we are in New York … however we can get that done.” New York is the firm’s largest office, with more than 200 lawyers of about 500 firmwide. But it was Orrick’s still-small London office that concerned Johnson. And if he wanted a bigger firm, he’s got it now. DLA currently has more than 1,100 lawyers in Europe and Asia, and has affiliates (and potential merger partners) in cities including Paris, Barcelona, and Milan. But Orrick, which has offices in Singapore and Tokyo, has some leverage in the bidding wars: DLA lags in both gross revenue and profits per partner, according to The American Lawyer‘s Global 50 report. Competitor gossip aside, losing Johnson may say more about his job-hopping history than about Orrick’s weaknesses. DLA marks Johnson’s sixth lawyer post. He has worked at London’s Linklaters and as an in-house lawyer. He spent a few years at London’s Ashurst Morris Crisp, where he eventually headed up the project finance group. In 1997 he jumped to New York’s Chadbourne & Parke to manage that firm’s now-defunct Singapore office. Then he left a year later to help start Orrick’s London office. That was three years ago. Orrick quickly installed two new co-managing partners; Jeanne Bartlett, a former investment banker and Linklaters securities lawyer in London, and Paul Weiffenbach, who came to Orrick from the firm’s Washington, D.C., office, have already shown their sticking power. According to Bartlett, Johnson approached her about going with him, but she gave him “an emphatic no.” Others had been approached, too, she says, but at press time nobody had followed him. (Johnson denies speaking to lawyers at Orrick about going with him.) Orrick in London is not a sinking ship, says Bartlett. “[It] is a challenging market,” she says, “but we will get there.” Slow but sure — and without Ian Johnson. Related Chart: London Branches, Doubling Down

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