US lateral hires: Asda shows a payoff for Gibson Dunn’s competition push

A cursory exploration of the hiring strategies of American firms in 2017 leads straight to Kirkland or Latham. Yet The Lawyer’s Top 50 US firms in London report shows the brouhaha around David Higgins eclipses other, equally targeted talent acquisitions. And arguably one of the most significant hires in the last few years has been not in private equity or leveraged finance, but in competition: namely, Ali Nikpay.

Catrin Griffiths

Nikpay joined Gibson Dunn in 2013, having built his career at DG Comp and then the OFT. This week he was named as the lead competition partner for Asda, working aside Slaughter and May partners Sally Wokes, Victoria MacDuff and Nigel Boardman on the megadeal with Sainsbury’s. Linklaters was on the other side, with partners Nicole Kar and Simon Pritchard leading on competition.

As co-counsel mandates go, it’s a plum job. And a US firm displacing the mighty competition department at Slaughter and May, no less, has not gone unremarked by City competition partners. “They’ll be bloody livid,” speculates one, with just the tiniest shade of glee.  Despite the fact that Slaughters’ Bertrand Louveaux had advised Asda on the Competition Commission’s market investigation into the supply of groceries in the UK and on the OFT’s investigation into dairy products – including representing Asda before the Competition Appeals Tribunal – Gibson’s Nikpay nevertheless managed to get the call.

US firms’ cheerleaders in certain sections of the press will no doubt heap yet more doom upon magic circle firms, but Nikpay’s success in getting through Asda’s door is down to a combination of specific circumstances. First – and this is where the network effect is a structural advantage – Gibson has a significant client relationship with Walmart. Washington DC partner Adam Vincenzo was lead antitrust counsel on Walmart’s $3bn acquisition of internet retailer Jet.com (cleared by the Federal Trade Commission in 2016) and on its 2017 acquisition of online retailer Bonobos. Nevertheless, what is more important is the specifics. As a deal precipitated by the threat of online retail, and in particular the faint rumble of Jeff Bezos’s tanks on the lawn, the competition elements of the Sainbury’s-Asda deal have attracted considerable notice from commentators.

Nikpay’s success on a superficially different but nevertheless related retail sector is significant here; namely, the 2016 merger between Gala Coral and Ladbrokes, a transaction that had been on and off the table for years. That deal, between the then-second and third largest bookmakers in the UK, was hugely dependent on regulatory approval, with Nikpay’s arguments that the deal should be analysed on a local not a national angle, and also through the lens of online competition, winning the day. Plaudits abounded. Several partners note Nikpay’s can-do attitude: “Ali is Mr Positive,” says one.

Nikpay’s background at the regulator – and his training as an economist – was a crucial selling point for Asda, and has been Gibson Dunn’s entry point into a number of UK corporates. “Antitrust undeniably raises political issues as well as technical issues,” says a City competition partner. “Ali has relationships and insights that the Slaughters team, brilliant though they are, don’t quite have in equal measure.”

It won’t be a one-off. What is more than ever at stake is understanding the regulator’s outlook in a landscape where digital has changed the game, and in a world where after March 2019 the CMA will have a considerably extended remit, including ruling on state aid.

Any hires from the regulator are all about getting insight into thinking; just look at the scramble for recruits from the enforcement agencies, the most recent being ex-DPP Alison Saunders to Linklaters. “The way the CMA and Commission look at markets doesn’t stand still,’ says one competition partner. ‘Some firms tend to go back to old cases to apply an existing methodology, but the CMA is constantly evolving its ideas.” The traffic between private practice and competition regulator is not high, but it has produced some quality catches, largely for magic circle firms: Nelson Jung at Clifford Chance, Simon Priddis at Freshfields and Linklaters’ Simon Pritchard, who is currently on for Sainsbury’s on the Asda deal. Nikpay aside, the only US firm hire of recent times was Jonathan Parker, who joined Latham as a partner after a stint as director of mergers at the CMA – prior to that he was a senior associate at A&O.

Private practitioners predict less traffic between private practice and the regulator in the near term, citing the internal restructure at the CMA that means that responsibilities are spread out between a larger number of team leaders, a move that is seen as partly defensive. “The CMA didn’t like one or two indiviudals having a huge amount of influence or being better known,” says one partner.

Still, now is the perfect time to join the regulator and make your name. The CMA has vacancies for a senior director in mergers and senior legal director in mergers, markets and sector regulation. The new technology team at the CMA, which will include the new post of chief data and technology insights officer, underlines the extent to which digital and online market disruption will dominate competition policy over the next few years. “It’ll be the most interesting time for them,” says one partner. “The big question is, are they going to have the cojones to take on someone like Google, going forward?”

But back to Sainsbury’s. Once Slaughters partners have recovered from their internal lament at missing the deal of the year, they will have some work to do to make sure no further ground is lost to the US. Once is unlucky, but twice would be a trend.

DLA Piper hires key duo

DLA Piper has hired former Gibson Dunn & Crutcher partner Phil Crump and Kirkland & Ellis partner Doug Murning.

Crump left Gibson Dunn at the end of last year without a new role, having joined Gibson Dunn from Kirkland & Ellis in August 2015.

Crump’s move to Gibson Dunn had reunited him with former Kirkland colleague Stephen Gillespie, who co-chairs Gibson’s global finance group.

Before joining Kirkland in 2007, Crump was an associate at Shearman & Sterling and trained in New Zealand in the late ‘90s at Russell McVeagh.

Alongside Crump’s hire, DLA Piper has also recruited Kirkland partner Doug Murning, who is based in Hong Kong. He will continue to work in Asia, though will initially split his time between there and London.

In his new role, will become head of DLA’s London leveraged finance team, advising on lender-side finance deals, special situations and deals for alternative credit providers.

Earlier this year, DLA Piper hired Ropes & Gray London senior partner Maurice Allen as a consultant, who joined with a brief to develop the firm’s finance sector strategy.

He reports to Charles Severs, managing director of practice groups and Jan Geert Meents, managing director of sectors and clients.

Linklaters

Linklaters recruits from Ropes to boost restructuring team

Linklaters is set to grow its restructuring team with the hire of Ropes & Gray partner James Douglas.

Douglas is a member of the US firm’s special situations group in London, where he acts for clients including KKR Credit, Hutchinson Investors and TPG Special Situation Partners. moving to the city from New Zealand firm Minter Ellison Rudd Watts.

He joined Ropes’ partnership in 2010, after moving to the city from New Zealand firm Minter Ellison Rudd Watts.

Ropes’ special situations group is one of the largest in the firm’s London office, with nine partners listed as specialising in restructuring matters.

These include the group’s co-head Peter Baldwin, along with a number of other partners who also work in the firm’s private equity and finance groups.

Douglas’ appointment follows a series of exits from Linklaters’ restructuring team – predominantly to Sidley Austin.

New York City

Quinn hires Kirkland partner to bolster litigation in NYC

Quinn Emanuel has hired former Kirkland & Ellis partner and patent litigation lawyer Steven Cherny to boost its New York office.

At Kirkland, Cherny focused on patent litigation in Federal Courts and the United States International Trade Commission.

He has tried high profile patent cases involving IP in industries ranging from telecommunications, electronics and pharmaceuticals to financial and business methods and consumer products.

Quinn managing partner John Quinn said: “The firm’s IP litigation practice is booming. Adding a widely acknowledged superstar in that space is a unique opportunity.  We expect Steve will spearhead the firm’s growth in the medical device and telecom areas in particular.”

Cherny said: “Quinn Emanuel’s firmwide focus on high stakes patent disputes and in particular the willingness and experience trying cases is like coming home to me.”

 

Hong Kong

Ashurst Hong Kong exits continue as project finance partner joins DLA Piper

Matthias Schemuth leaves firm after nine years for move to DLA Piper.

Ashurst has seen another departure from its Hong Kong office, with project finance partner Matthias Schemuth leaving for DLA Piper.

Schemuth, who is joining DLA in Hong Kong, advises lenders and sponsors on projects in the oil and gas, petrochemical and mining sectors. In 2014, he led the team representing a consortium of Japanese and Korean export credit agencies and commercial lenders on a $2.8bn (£2.2bn) liquefied natural gas project in Indonesia.

Olswang loses another senior partner ahead of three-way merger

Olswang technology partner and former Asia head Rob Bratby is set to join Arnold & Porter’s London office ahead of the UK firm’s planned three-way tie-up with CMS and Nabarro.

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Bratby, whose practice focuses on corporate work in the telecoms, media and technology sector, was Olswang’s Asia managing partner from 2011 until earlier this year, when he returned to London from Singapore.

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Sidley Austin pulls off three-strong team hire in Hong Kong

Sidley Austin hired three arbitration lawyers from O’Melveny & Myers, including partner Friven Yeoh, who was most recently the head of the latter firm’s Hong Kong office.

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Yeoh, who joined O’Melveny in 2009, was appointed Hong Kong managing partner last year. Following his departure, the firm has appointed Denis Brock to head his Hong Kong office. Brock joined from King & Wood Mallesons in 2014.

Joining Yeoh are counsel Desmond Ang and Yan Zhang.

This bolstering of Sidley’s litigation and dispute resolution department follows litigation head Charles Allen’s recent move from Sidley to Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe.

In June, O’Melveny lost another Asia-based managing partner, this time in Shanghai. DLA Piper hired Li Qiang as well as counsel Stewart Wang.

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Simmons & Simmons nabs White & Case partner duo for Milan team

Simmons & Simmons has poached two partners from White & Case in Italy, a year after the firm closed its Rome office.

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Capital markets partners Paola Leocani and Nicholas Lasagna have both joined Simmons’ Milan office.

The hires come a year after Simmons’ consolidated its Italian offices by closing its doors in Rome and relocating its partners to Milan. The firm’s nine Rome partners were moved to Milan while its associates were offered the opportunity to relocate rather than lose their jobs.

At the time Simmons’ senior partner Colin Passmore said that the firm was still committed to the Italian market but added that the majority of its clients were located in Milan.

Leocani’s practice focuses on debt and securitised derivatives as well as liability management transactions and equity capital markets. She joined White & Case in 2013 after working as a partner at Allen & Overy (A&O) for seven years.

Lasagna advises clients on bank finance and capital market transactions. He specialises in leverage finance, acquisition finance, bond private placements, syndicated loans and debt restructuring finance matters. He worked as a partner at White & Case after joining the firm in 2011 from Latham & Watkins. Prior to that he worked as a senior associate at Clifford Chance.

Simmons’ international financial markets head Jonathan Hammond said: “Their arrival emphasises our continued commitment to developing our international capital markets offering and brings the number of partners who have joined our international financial markets practice so far this year to 10.”

Simmons recently lost four intellectual property partners in London to A&O after the magic circle firm pulled off a string of successful raids on the firm. A&O poached Simmons head of IP Marc Döring and partner Marjan Noor earlier in the year before picking up partners Mark Heaney and David Stone last month.

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Ashurst Abu Dhabi head exits for US firm Curtis Mallet-Prevost

Ashurst Abu Dhabi managing partner Alastair Holland has exited the firm for US firm Curtis Mallet-Prevost Colt & Mosle

Holland was made up to partner at Ashurst in 2011 and was promoted to the role of Abu Dhabi managing partner just months later after energy partner David Wadham moved back to London.

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He first joined Ashurst as an associate in 1999, subsequently working in London, Frankfurt and Dubai.

Corporate lawyer Holland will become a partner in Curtis Mallet-Prevost’s Dubai office, working on M&A and joint venture transactions in both the Middle East and North Africa.

Ashurst has two offices in the Middle East, as well as an associated office in Jeddah.

One partner is based permanently in Abu Dhabi, while Middle East head Joss Dare and dispute resolution head Dyfan Owen split their time between Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Holland’s departure comes as Ashurst has witnessed a wave of departures in both London and Asia.

Finance partners Michael Smith, Diala Minott and Cameron Saylor are the latest to leave the firm, joining Paul Hastings in London earlier this month.

Other recent departures include: restructuring partner Simon Baskerville and financial regulatory partners Rob Moulton and Nicola Higgs for Latham & Watkins; litigation partner Mark Clarke and corporate partner Jonathan Parry for White & Case and financial regulatory partner James Perry for Gibson Dunn & Crutcher.

In Asia, Ashurst restructuring partner Bertie Mehigan is leaving the firm’s Hong Kong office with a team of three lawyers to join independent firm Howse Williams Bowers (HWB), while finance partner Doo-Soon Choi joined Mayer Brown’s Hong Kong office.

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Sidley Austin HK litigation head moves to Orrick

Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe has hired Charles Allen as litigation and dispute resolution partner in Hong Kong from Sidley Austin, where he led the firm’s commercial litigation practice.

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Allen’s practice focuses on commercial litigation, arbitration and investigations. He has represented clients on contractual and tortious disputes, as well as regulatory and other investigations. Allen joined Sidley in 2002 from Simmons & Simmons and became a partner in 2007.

Orrick’s global litigation practice includes 450 lawyers, but Allen is the only litigation partner in the Hong Kong office. In February last year, the firm lost litigator Andrew Dale to Ropes & Gray.