Bird & Bird unveils CEO David Kerr’s successor as marathon 26-year term draws to a close

Commercial law specialist Christian Bartsch to take over in April; firm underlines care taken over succession planning
Photo of David Kerr (left) and Christian Bartsch together

David Kerr (left) and Christian Bartsch

Bird & Bird’s partners have elected commercial law specialist Christian Bartsch to succeed David Kerr as its next CEO, signalling the end of Kerr’s marathon 26 years at the helm of the leading technology-focused firm.

Bartsch, who is co-head of the financial services sector group and chair of the risk committee, will assume leadership of the firm on 1 April next year, Kerr having signalled he would step down at the start of his final three-year term in 2019.

Under Kerr’s leadership Bird & Bird has grown from a 70-lawyer, three-office outfit generating revenue of €23m, to a top 20 UK law firm with 1,400 lawyers based in 30 offices around the world with a turnover of €455m. 

“It’s been an incredible privilege and honour to lead Bird & Bird over the past 26 years,” he said. “We’ve been on a tremendous journey and I’ve learned so much from our clients and our brilliant people as we’ve grown.”

The unusual length of Kerr’s tenure – especially for a UK-based firm, where leaders rarely stay in post for more than ten years – had inevitably raised questions about how Bird & Bird would handle the succession. 

The firm said that over the past two years its chair Graeme Maguire, the board and Kerr 'have worked closely with the partnership, management teams and external consultants on an extensive succession planning and consultation process.’

Bird & Bird also underlined Bartsch’s ‘deep understanding of how the firm operates’ and leadership track record, which includes six years on the board, as well as his status as the manager of ‘some of the firm’s biggest client relationships and projects across multiple jurisdictions, with a specific focus on emerging and disruptive technologies’. It added that Kerr, who is staying on as a partner, would ‘work closely alongside’ Bartsch and the management team to ensure a smooth leadership transition.

Bartsch joined Bird & Bird as a partner in London from Barlow Lyde & Gilbert – now part of Clyde & Co – in 2007. His legal work includes advising ‘on strategic alliance relationships, change-management and other consulting engagements, managed services agreements, systems integration deals and network procurement arrangements’. He also professes to have a ‘keen interest’ in the Indian outsourcing market, having made regular visits to India to monitor market relations.

“The firm has achieved so much under David’s leadership and his vision and strategic insight has enabled the firm to achieve impressive and successful growth,” he said. “I am committed to building on the firm’s exceptionally strong international platform, ensuring that our much-admired collaborative culture continues to benefit our service delivery to clients." 

Bartsch’s appointment comes off the back of a strong financial year, revenue having increased by 6% to £401.2m against a 10% increase in PEP to £610,000. In September, Bird & Bird was named Luxury Law Firm of the Year at the Luxury Law Summit and Awards, which were hosted by The Global Legal Post.

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