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Double City disputes hire for Bracewell as energy specialist responds to client demand

US energy firm Bracewell has hired a brace of arbitration partners to lead the launch of its London disputes practice.

Litigation and arbitration specialist Damian Watkin has joined the Houston-headquartered firm, best known for energy advisory, on Monday (4 December) from McDermott Will & Emery. He had only been a partner at McDermott since February 2017, before which he was a barrister in Jones Day’s global disputes practice for four years in Sydney and Dubai.

John Gilbert joins next Monday (11 December) from K&L Gates, where he had been a partner in the London oil and gas and international arbitration practices for two years. Before that he was a partner at Pinsent Masons for three years, having previously worked as senior counsel at BP for nearly six years.

Bracewell first opened its doors in London in 2007, but only in 2013 did the firm start beefing up its City capability in earnest. It approached Jason Fox, a then Herbert Smith Freehills finance partner with 28 years under his belt, to properly establish its London presence. Fox joined as senior partner to that end in 2013 and became managing partner in July 2017. The new hires bring the number of partners in London to 10.

Commenting on the new hires, London managing partner Fox told Legal Business: ‘It was always our intention to start growing out the disputes practice once we’d bedded in on the transactions side. This has exceeded all expectations. The London office now acts for over 50 energy companies and all of the banks active in lending to oil and gas transactions. There has been an increasing need from our clients to act on contentious issues in the energy sector so we felt the time was now right to launch the disputes practice.’

Gilbert was known to Fox having been a senior associate at his former firm, Herbert Smith, for more than eight years. Fox aims to hire associates for the disputes practice over the coming months and appoint more partners in 2018.

Recent deal highlights for Bracewell have included Neptune Energy group – the SPV backed by The Carlyle Group and CVC Capital Partners – on the $3.9bn acquisition of Engie’s oil and gas portfolio. The firm also advised the banks on a deal that saw Austria’s OMV sell its UK business to Siccar Point Energy, the E&P company backed by Blackstone Energy Partners.

Bracewell has seen an uptick in deals involving private equity houses investing in oil and gas assets, driven by the oil price having stabilised at $50-$60 a barrel.