French Firm Hires Bulk of Morgan Lewis' Paris Office

, The American Lawyer

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French firm Gide Loyrette Nouel announced Wednesday that it has hired nine partners and 10 associates from Morgan, Lewis & Bockius' office in the French capital. Most of the defectors joined Morgan Lewis in 2004 as part of a 15-lawyer team recruited from another French firm, De Pardieu Brocas Maffei & Leygonie, to launch the Am Law 100 firm's now-depleted Paris outpost.

Anne Tolila, the Morgan Lewis partner leading the group, told Legal affiliate The Am Law Daily that Gide's global scope was the main draw for her and her colleagues. "The international presence of Gide is far beyond what is available at Morgan Lewis," Tolila said. Gide has 18 offices scattered across 15 countries, with about half of its 600 lawyers based in Paris. By comparison, 1,600-lawyer Morgan Lewis has 16 offices in the United States and nine others abroad.

"Taking that into consideration, we had the opportunity to join this great firm, and what was very important for us was to maintain the group we have," she said. "We believe Gide will be a better platform for us to develop business and clients, not only French clients, but international clients." The group's current clients, Tolila added, include French naval defense company DCNS, explosives and chemicals maker SNPE, international venture capitalists, and sovereign wealth funds.

In addition to Tolila, the Morgan Lewis partners on the move are Pierre-Antoine Dubecq, Olivier Edwards, Karen Noël and David-James Sebag (who, like Tolila, are joining Gide's M&A group); Ann Baker (funds formation); Christian Nouel (tax); François Vergne (employment); and Jean Leygonie (competition). Leygonie, the founding partner of Morgan Lewis' Paris office, will also take the lead in helping the group integrate into Gide.

Gide managing partner Stéphane Puel said the hires mesh with a three-year business plan established last year that makes expanding the firm's M&A, fund formation and investment funds practices a priority.

"We started just to check in the market which team could meet all these criteria, then had the opportunity to discuss with the people from Morgan Lewis," Puel said. "We knew them of course from reputation but were not particularly close to them." Once the talks began earlier this year, he added, "it went very quickly."

Though Morgan Lewis' Paris office will be home to just two partners, one counsel and three associates once the group is gone — something Tolila expects will occur within a few weeks — the firm downplayed the losses.

"The practices of the departing partners, although well-respected in Paris, were not consistent with the needs of our clients and our firm's global focus," the firm said in a prepared statement. "We believe that this departure is in the best interests of all concerned, and we wish our former colleagues well in their new firm. We maintain our presence in Paris with partners and associates in the corporate, litigation and intellectual property practices."

Morgan Lewis — which first expanded into Europe by opening a London office in 1981 and recently elected Jami Wintz McKeon to succeed Francis Milone as the firm's chair — also noted in its statement that it plans to continue expanding its overseas offices in Almaty, Kazakhstan; Dubai; London; and Moscow. Morgan Lewis entered the Almaty and Moscow offices last year with mass hires from Dewey & LeBoeuf as that firm went under.

Last year, Morgan Lewis had gross revenue of $1.23 billion and profits per equity partner of $1.55 million, according to the most recent Am Law 100 data.

In 2011, Legal affiliate The American Lawyer described Gide as "the pinot noir of law firms," noting that, like the prestigious grape, it "always thrives best in its native France." At the time, 15 percent of Gide's lawyers were not French, and two-thirds of its total revenue came from the Paris office. Puel said business from Paris still makes up more than half of the firm's revenue. In their most recent fiscal year, Gide reported $244.5 million in gross revenue.

Sara Randazzo is a reporter for The American Lawyer, a Legal affiliate based in New York. This article first appeared on The Am Law Daily at www.americanlawyer.com. •

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