Allen & Overy has announced the shock resignation of managing partner Gareth Price amid a set of financial results that saw the Magic Circle firm break £2bn in revenue for the first time.
The firm said Price’s resignation was due to ‘personal reasons’ and came as revenue jumped nearly 8% from £1.94bn last year to £2.1bn in 2022/23. While eye-catching, the level of turnover growth fell slightly short of the 10% uptick achieved last year, of which more than half was attributed to A&O’s US business.
Profit per equity partner (PEP) dropped 6.6% from £1.95m to £1.82m, while profit before tax dipped slightly to £892m after a 9% hike to £900m last year.
Price was elected A&O’s managing partner in February 2020. News of his departure has been met by surprise, not least because he had been hotly tipped internally to stand again for managing partner in the firm’s 2024 leadership elections, a move that could be seen as a vote for continuity as A&O faces inevitable challenges posed by its proposed merger with Shearman & Sterling.
‘The board has asked me to step in to cover the [managing partner] role’, senior partner Wim Dejonghe told Legal Business. ‘They will make a decision on a more permanent solution in the autumn. Leadership elections were scheduled for early next year, after the merger vote. The board also has to decide whether they stick to that schedule or not.’
On the financials, A&O reported strong growth in private capital revenue of more than 60% for the last two years. In the US, ‘growth and expansion has remained a high priority’ – unsurprising given the firm’s pursuit of the Shearman merger. A&O pointed to the region as one of its strong performers, alongside Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, which saw its ‘strongest financial performance ever’, driven by what it describes as ‘a hot IPO market’, as well as by opportunities in Saudi Arabia.
A&O’s Advanced Delivery & Solutions (AD&S) business also grew by 13%.
While the US accounted for over 50% of the firm’s revenue growth last year, this year Dejonghe said it accounted for less than half. ‘It’s up in absolute figures, but it’s not 50% of the growth,’ he said.
A&O also reported strong performance in energy transition, technology, and private capital: ‘With the energy transition, there’s a lot of financing needed in the energy and infrastructure space. That’s definitely a strong growth point for us. Technology, both on the litigation and the transactional side, has also seen massive growth, as has private capital on the debt side,’ Dejonghe added.
Dejonghe explained the drop in PEP with reference to macroeconomic conditions and a competitive legal market. ‘We’re in an inflationary environment. Costs generally have gone up. And of course there’s been a salary war in the industry around the world. We’ve defended our position, and we’ve had to spend quite a bit more on salaries to keep and recruit the best talent.’
A&O has no plans to slow its investment. ‘In terms of sectors, we’re focusing on technology, energy transition, and private money. We’re investing quite heavily in those practices around the world.’
But, unsurprisingly, the lion’s share of attention will go to the proposed combination with Shearman. ‘Obviously, the merger will be a priority going forward’, said Dejonghe. ‘There’s no doubt about that.’
This article first appeared on Legal Business