Learner to leave HGGC and rejoin Kirkland & Ellis

James Learner, who joined HGGC two years ago, is returning to Kirkland & Ellis International.

Learner will rejoin Kirkland as a partner in the law firm’s Corporate Practice Group in London effective February 1, a statement said. Learner spent 25 years at Kirkland and helped the London office grow to more than 115 attorneys from 14, said Jeffrey Hammes, Chairman of Kirkland’s Global Management Executive Committee, in a statement.

“We are thrilled to welcome our friend and colleague back to the Firm,” Hammes said in the statement.

Learner joined HGGC in November 2012 as a managing partner. The Palo Alto, Calif.-based middle market private equity firm was on a tear in 2014 and completed 10 transactions last year. This included nine majority acquisitions — SSI, Serena Software, Jabil AS, Polaris, AutoAlert, TCG, VTLS, Pearl and Buy4Now — and one exit, the sale of Hollander Sleep Products.

Learner came to HGGC to do deals but did not lead any of the 10 transactions in 2014, a source familiar with the situation said. The middle market, the person said, is a tough business where executives need a large network of sources to succeed. “It’s hard to jump in and land and be a deal professional,” the source said.

Family was also a big consideration in Learner’s return to London, the source said.

HGGC is currently governed by four managing partners: Rich Lawson, co-founder and CEO; Gary Crittenden, co-founder and chairman; J. Steven Young, co-founder; and, Greg Benson, co-founder.

Learner’s departure comes as HGGC has been out fundraising for its second fund. HGGC Fund II LP has a $1 billion target and has already closed above its target, a source said.

Many attorneys who leave law firms for private equity do not seek dealmaking roles. Stephen Oetgen left Kirkland in 2013 and is currently Golden Gate Capital’s general counsel. David Breach, a founding partner of Kirkland’s corporate group in the San Francisco office, is also joining Vista Equity Partners but as chief administrative officer, the Wall Street Journal reported in October.

Learner couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. HGGC declined comment.

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