Simpson Thacher & Bartlett has lost corporate partner Sean Rodgers in New York to Kirkland & Ellis, the latter of which announced his hire Monday amid its ongoing efforts to expand its roster of M&A lawyers.
Rodgers, 43, is the latest high-profile lateral hire by Kirkland, which this summer recruited former SEC enforcement chief Robert Khuzami only a few months after it brought on former Cravath, Swaine & Moore corporate partner Sarkis Jebejian.
The American Lawyer reported in April on Kirkland’s effort to build a top-flight transactional practice through corporate partner-turned-chairman Jeffrey Hammes, who took the helm in late 2009 and was reelected to another three-year term as firm leader this past February.
“Sean Rodgers has informed us that he has joined Kirkland & Ellis,” Simpson said in a statement provided to The Am Law Daily. “We are sorry to have Sean leave us, and we wish him well.”
Rodgers says that his move to Kirkland has been in the works for several months, noting that Hammes had reached out him about joining the firm. Having joined Simpson in 1995 after graduating from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law—Rodgers made partner at the firm on January 1, 2004—he wasn’t actively looking to leave a firm where he had spent most of the past two decades. But Kirkland’s pitch prevailed.
“I was impressed by their energy level and depth of talent,” Rodgers says, “as well as their trajectory for the future. It’s a fantastic opportunity.”
Kirkland corporate partner David Fox, a member of the firm’s global executive management committee who joined Kirkland in his own high-profile lateral move from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in May 2009, declined to comment on whether a legal recruiter played a role in brokering Rodgers’ hire. Fox and Rodgers also declined to comment on whether Rodgers received any financial guarantees to entice him to leave Simpson. (Kirkland has reportedly agreed to pay $5 million a year to Khuzami over the next two years.)
According to the most recent Am Law 100 financial data, 837-lawyer Simpson saw gross revenue rise 2 percent last year to $982.5 million, while profits per partner were mostly flat at nearly $2.7 million. Kirkland’s profits per partner rose 6.6 percent last year to $3.3 million, while gross revenue at the 1,517-lawyer firm jumped nearly 11 percent to $1.9 billion.
Fox did say that Kirkland has been “extraordinarily busy” over the past few months handling transactional matters for private equity and strategic clients.
In recent weeks, Kirkland has had a hand in dozens of deals, advising Ohio’s Murray Energy on its $3.5 billion sale of five West Virginia coal mines to CONSOL, Edison International’s bankrupt Edison Mission Energy unit on its $2.64 billion sale to NRG Energy, and Advance Auto Parts on its $2 billion buy of General Parts International.
Kirkland’s vaunted private equity group has also remained active, counseling GTCR on its $820 million sale of security and defense intelligence services unit Six3 Systems, Crestview Partners on its $512 million purchase of Stackpole International and Shamrock Capital Advisors on its sale of the Harlem Globetrotters for an undisclosed sum. Other private equity clients Kirkland has handled corporate work for in recent weeks include Tenex Capital Management, Sun Capital Partners, LNK Partners and Apax Partners, which is part owner of ALM Media LLC, parent company and publisher of The Am Law Daily.
Last month Kirkland also landed a role advising New York–based private equity giant KKR on its $1 billion acquisition of industrial product makers The Crosby Group and Acco Material Handling Solutions from Melrose Industries. The Am Law Daily reported at the time that Simpson was advising Melrose on the deal, leading Kirkland to pick up the work for acquirer KKR, which has traditionally been a longtime Simpson private equity client. (KKR, which Simpson helped take public three years ago, was cofounded by law school graduate George Roberts, one of the nation’s wealthiest individuals.)
Rodgers himself handled a number of high-profile deals for KKR while at Simpson. In September, Rodgers advised KKR on its $1.1 billion buy of software company Mitchell International from Aurora Capital Group, and this summer he led another Simpson team handling KKR’s $1.3 billion purchase of health care firm PRA International.
Earlier this year, Rodgers and Simpson advised KKR on its $3.9 billion acquisition of machinery maker Gardner Denver, and Rodgers led another Simpson team counseling KKR two years ago on its $2.4 billion purchase of Pfizer’s Capsugel division.
Rodgers declined to comment on the names of any potential clients he might bring with him to Kirkland. David Sorkin, a former Simpson M&A partner who became KKR’s first-ever general counsel in 2007, did not respond to a request for comment about what Rodgers’ hire by Kirkland might mean for the buyout shop’s future outside counsel decisions on transactional matters. (Sorkin and Rodgers were both mentioned in a November 2006 feature story by The American Lawyer about Simpson’s ties to KKR and other private equity clients.)
KKR, which turned to Simpson for counsel last month on its roughly $1.3 billion acquisition of Serbian cable company SBB/Telemach Group, may have telegraphed that little will change on the legal advisory front in announcing yet another deal on Monday.
Simpson has once again landed the lead role advising KKR on its $1.6 billion buy of landscaping company The Brickman Group from rival private equity firm Leonard Green & Partners. Simpson corporate partner Gary Horowitz, a member of the firm’s executive committee and longtime adviser to KKR, is leading a team from the firm working on the matter that includes banking and credit partner James Cross, capital markets partner Richard Fenyes, executive compensation and employee benefits partner Andrea Wahlquist and senior tax partner Steven Todrys.
Dechert corporate partners Carmen Romano and R. Jeffrey Legath, tax partner Joshua Milgrim, and associates Hamid Moghadam and Brad Pollack are advising Gaithersburg, Md.–based Brickman on the sale to KKR. Gena Ashe, a former in-house legal chief for the Public Broadcasting Service, serves as general counsel and corporate secretary for Brickman.
Latham & Watkins has taken the lead for Leonard Green. Leading the team advising the Santa Monica–based private equity firm, which has been a longtime Latham client, are U.S. private equity cochair Howard Sobel and corporate partner Jason Silvera, finance partner Dennis Lamont, tax partner Joseph Kronsnoble, IP partner Jeffrey Tochner, employee benefits and compensation partner Bradd Williamson, environmental counsel David Langer, and associates Paul Chan, Enrique Rene de Vera, Jordan Miller, Scott Ollivierre, Austin Ozawa, Timothy Pisacreta, Gabrielle Russell and Shi Su. (Leonard Green’s chief compliance officer and director of tax is Lance Schumacher.)
As for Kirkland, not all of its high-profile lateral hires have always worked out. In February, the firm brought on Skadden corporate partner Rick Madden in Los Angeles and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati M&A partner Michael Ringler in San Francisco. But in March, Ringler abruptly left Kirkland and returned to Wilson Sonsini, according to sibling publication The Recorder.
Nonetheless, if past history is any indication, Simpson could have some KKR-related competition on its hands with Kirkland’s hire of Rodgers.
When Kirkland poached Jebejian from Cravath late last year, the young M&A partner demurred when asked about clients that might follow him to his new firm. One company that does appear to have moved to Kirkland from Cravath along with Jebejian is Dublin-based Accenture, the world’s largest consulting firm.
Accenture—whose general counsel is ex-Cravath corporate partner Julie Spellman Sweet—has turned to Kirkland and Jebejian this year for counsel on its $375 million acquisition of procurement services provider Procurian and $316 million buy of digital marketing firm Acquity Group.