Biglaw, Lateral Moves, Mergers and Acquisitions, Musical Chairs, Partner Issues, Partner Profits

Musical Chairs: A Promising Young Partner Parts Ways With Cravath

Cravath partners enjoy discounts at Subway, among other perquisites.

It’s rare for partners to leave Cravath, given the prestige, pay, and perks associated with partnership at the firm. And it’s especially rare for a Cravath partner to leave for a rival firm, as opposed to a Wall Street investment bank or major corporation.

Cravath has a very specific system for running itself, and that system has served Cravath very well over the years. As its competitors expend increasing amounts of effort to climb the prestige hierarchy and expand across the globe, Cravath remains at the top, serenely servicing its clients — and printing money for its partners. Part of the reason why Cravath so rarely loses partners to other firms is that it’s so profitable overall that even a partner being paid under Cravath’s lockstep system still does better than a “star” partner at many other firms.

So that’s why today’s news is so notable. A prominent young partner at Cravath has decided to leave Worldwide Plaza and take his talents across town.

Who is the partner in question, and where is he headed?

Sarkis Jebejian

Until recently, Sarkis Jebejian was an M&A partner at Cravath. At 43, he’s a relatively young partner; he graduated from Columbia Law School in 1994 and made partner in 2002. He could have stayed on at Cravath for decades as a dealmaker.

But Jebejian has decided to decamp for Kirkland & Ellis, as K&E just announced both internally and in a press release:

“Sarkis is one of the country’s leading M&A practitioners with significant experience representing clients on a wide range of transactional, corporate governance and M&A work,” said Jeffrey C. Hammes, Chairman of Kirkland’s Global Management Executive Committee.

Mr. Jebejian focuses his practice on M&A, both domestic and cross-border, and has completed numerous billion dollar-plus transactions involving several Fortune 100 companies and the largest and most sophisticated global private equity firms. Most recently, he represented Flagstone Reinsurance in its sale to Validus Holdings; Genpact in an investment by Bain Capital and its acquisition of Headstrong; BAE Systems in its sale of Safariland and acquisitions of Armor Holdings and United Defense Industries; and KKR Private Equity Investors in its combination transaction with KKR & Co., L.P., which achieved the public listing of KKR’s private equity business.

If Cravath had to lose a partner to a rival firm, it makes sense that it would be a place like Kirkland, which is one of the few firms that can compete with Cravath in terms of pay and prestige. And because K&E doesn’t have a lockstep compensation system, it could — and presumably did — woo Jebejian with a compelling compensation package.

(Speaking of compelling compensation packages, we understand that Kirkland associate bonus news is about to drop. Please email us or text us (646-820-8477) to let us know how the K&E bonuses are looking this year. You can give us a range or approximate figure if you’d rather not disclose your exact bonus number. We also generally use rough figures or aggregated data to preserve anonymity.)

As one might expect of a Cravath partner who has worked on major deals, Jebejian has racked up lots of accolades already:

Mr. Jebejian has been recognized as a leading M&A attorney in Chambers USA: America’s Leading Lawyers for Business and The Legal 500 U.S. He was named a “Star Partner” by The Lawyer in its Transatlantic Elite 2011 supplement for his work in the energy industry and was chosen by corporate counsel as one of the 2012 BTI Client Service All-Stars for his commitment to understanding his clients’ legal and business objectives, recognizing client goals, and providing innovative and effective solutions….

“It was a difficult decision to leave Cravath and I will always cherish my career there, but I am excited to join Kirkland & Ellis and its talented team of M&A lawyers, many of whom I have known for some time,” Mr. Jebejian said. “I look forward to working alongside them to continue to build Kirkland’s industry-leading corporate practice.”

Snagging a partner from Cravath reflects very well on Kirkland’s transactional practice. As one of our K&E sources told us this morning, “General consensus is that this is a huge coup for a corporate group that crushed it by all accounts this year.”

Some partners who leave top-tier lockstep firms end up regretting it; recall, for example, Ralph Ferrara, who left Debevoise & Plimpton for LeBoeuf Lamb, later Dewey & LeBoeuf. But, needless to say, Kirkland is no Dewey. And presumably a superstar corporate partner like Jebejian did extensive due diligence before deciding to leave his lofty perch at Cravath.

Congratulations to Kirkland & Ellis on its high-profile lateral hire. And congratulations and good luck to Sarkis Jebejian as he embarks upon a new, exciting, and entrepreneurial phase of his career.

UPDATE (12/17/2012, 7:00 PM): There’s more about Jebejian’s move over at Am Law Daily. Some highlights:

  • Sarkis Jebejian is the second partner to leave Cravath this year. The first was environmental lawyer Jeffrey Smith, now at Crowell & Moring.
  • “Jebejian is the first lateral M&A partner Kirkland has hired since recruiting New York-based David Fox and Daniel Wolf from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in May 2009 to bolster the firm’s M&A practice.”
  • “Though neither Jebejian nor Fox would say Monday when the two first began talking about a move, both noted that Jebejian has worked opposite Kirkland lawyers on several deals over the past five years, including Cravath client Genpact’s 2011 acquisition of Kirkland client Headstrong for $550 million and The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company’s bankruptcy.”
  • “Jebejian could be in a position to make more money as a result of the move. Though the two firms boast average profits-per-equity-partner figures that are roughly comparable — $3.1 million at Cravath in 2011, according to The American Lawyer’s most recent Am Law 100 data, and $3.05 million at Kirkland — Cravath pays its partners using a lockstep scale based on seniority, with senior partners receiving three times as much as their junior colleagues, whereas Kirkland’s top partners can make as much as eight times as much as lawyers at the bottom of the partnership ranks.”
  • “Jebejian declined to say whether he is bringing any clients along with him to Kirkland but said he has gotten a positive reaction from those he’s reached out to so far. But before doing any deals at his new firm, he has another agenda: ‘I will take a vacation.'”

(If you’re interested, you can flip to the next page to see Jebejian’s Cravath bio. But a new bio for him is already up on the Kirkland website.)

Leading M&A Lawyer Sarkis Jebejian Joins New York Office of Kirkland & Ellis LLP [Kirkland & Ellis (press release)]

Earlier: Cravath Employees Get A Discount At Subway
Biglaw: It’s Not All About the Benjamins

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